Last update:
2018-12-22

Zabbaleen against corporate waste-management in El Cairo, Egypt

Cairo’s Zabbaleen maintain one of the most efficient and sustainable waste-recycling systems. After waste-management contracts with multinationals ended in 2017 their livelihoods have improved but also face new threats from private recycling initiatives.


Description:

The Zabbaleen of Cairo, which, loosely translated, means garbage people, live in Cairo’s “Garbage City”, a slum settlement within Cairo’s metropolitan area. The slum is called Mokattam. The settlement is infamous for being covered in garbage, including the streets, rooftops, and balconies.  The Zabbaleen community in Mokattam Village has a population of around 20,000 to 30,000, over 90 percent of which are Coptic Christians.  The Zabbaleen are the traditional waste collectors of Cairo, originally migrants from upper Egypt, who over time have created one of the world’s most efficient and sustainable resource recovery and waste-recycling systems. They created new settlements that came to be known as garbage villages or cities in the outskirts of Cairo, and provided residential areas with door-to-door garbage collection. The waste collection started with collecting organic waste to be fed to their pigs in return of a small monthly fee paid by residents. While they previously used to use donkey carts, today they use trucks instead. As such, they have greatly improved the capacity of Cairo to manage its waste at minimal cost or effort to the city administration.  However, the livelihood and waste management system created by the Zabbaleen is currently under threat.  Since 2003, the Cairo governorate has been implementing a policy of privatization of municipal solid waste management through the contracting of multi-national corporations, jeopardizing the livelihood and sustainability of the garbage collectors’ communities, by removing their central economic asset: municipal solid waste. Cairo Governorate, the largest in Egypt, faces significant municipal solid waste management challenges.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Zabbaleen against corporate waste-management in El Cairo, Egypt
Country:Egypt
State or province:Cairo Governorate
Location of conflict:Cairo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Urban development conflicts
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Aluminum/Bauxite
Rare metals
Recycled Metals
Plastic, Paper/Cardboard
Project Details and Actors
Project details

“Garbage City” is located on the poverty belt of Cairo in the Manshiet Nasser settlement located on the Muqattam mountain’s lower plateau, on the Eastern fringes of Cairo. The community is characterized by a high incidence of epidemics, illiteracy, poor environmental conditions, and low incomes ($60-75 per month).

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Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:80,000-150,000
Start of the conflict:31/12/2003
Company names or state enterprises:Egyptian Company for Garbage Collection (ECGC) from Egypt
URBASER from Spain - Spanish Waste management company
FCC from Spain - Private Spanish waste management company
AMA S.p.A. (ama) from Italy - Italian Waste management company
Emaar from United Arab Emirates - Dubai-based Emaar property development company that proposes developing urban luxury residential gated communities in the neighbourood
Recyco Life - RecycoLife's recycling model conflicts with that of the Zabbaleen, because the start-up purchases waste while the Zabbaleen collect it for free.
Bekia from Egypt - Additional recycling initiative offering competition to the Zabbaleen
Sell Your Garbage (SYG) from Egypt - Some trash for cash kiosks have been met with resistance from both informal Zabbaleen recyclers and private garbage collectors.
Relevant government actors:Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs (MSEA)
Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA)
The Cairo Cleansing and Beautification Authority (CCBA)
Cairo Governorate
Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities (MHUUC)
General Organisation for Physical Planning (GOPP)
Ministry of Local Development (MoLD)
Ministry of Finance (MoF)
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank
German Development Bank KfW (KfW) from Germany
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE)
Community and Institutional Development (CID)
Environment Quality Internation (EQI)
Environmental Protection Company (EPC)
Spirit of Youth (SOY)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Informal workers
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Pastoralists
Trade unions
Wastepickers, recyclers
Women
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
The Zabbaleen are Coptic Christians
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Global warming, Soil contamination, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsPotential: Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession
Outcome
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:A member of CID consulting has proposed integrating the Zabbaleen into the international companies' contracts. He suggests that transfer stations can be established where non-organic MSW can be sorted and sent to existing traders. The Zabbaleen can continue collecting the rate on a door-to-door basis and continue recycling, and only pass the residual waste to the companies. Moreover, they can receive inorganic waste from these companies as input for the recycling business and get contracted for specific types of waste directly from the generators of waste, such as paper from print shops, etc... He also recommends the establishment of small community-based composting facilities. In addition, their nationwide trading network can be connected to the formal sector of solid waste management, thus making the system mutually beneficial for both sides.
Ezzat Naem Gendy, Chairman of the Garbage Collector Syndicate, proposes that an ideal system would be to divide Cairo into different areas, supervised by local collection companies. This would help localize efforts within each area for waste management, and circumventing the neglect shown by major corporations who tend to underperform.
According to Dr. Leila Iskandar, chairperson of CID consulting, working at full capacity, the Zabbaleen will be able to cover the waste of two thirds of Cairo. They have now formed around 32 companies to make it possible for the government to give them contracts instead of larger corporations (data from 2012). By 2019, approximately 120 Zabbaleen companies have been established and are contracted by the government [24].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:A significant amount of the Zabbaleen have received formal employment opportunities either in the recycling sector or other sectors (patch work and weaving), provided by both governmental organizations and NGO's. But the Zabbaleen who have not yet gotten the opportunity to do so, or prefer to remain informal because they earn a higher income are still facing threats by various trash-for-cash initiatives in Cairo.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Egypt does not have an integrated MSWM law. Rather, the legal framework is scattered in many bylaws and regulation: The most significant pieces of legislation are:

- Law # 38/ 1967

- Law # 31/ 1976

- Law # 4/ 1994

- Law # 10/ 2005

- The Prime Minister Decree #1741/ 2005

- Law # 9/ 2009

The Presidential Decree # 86/ 2010

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] Cairo’s Contested Garbage: Sustainable Solid Waste Management and the Zabaleen’s Right to the City
[click to view]

[5] Cairo’s Contested Garbage: Sustainable Solid Waste Management and the Zabaleen’s Right to the City (2004)
[click to view]

5] Cairo’s Contested Garbage: Sustainable Solid Waste Management and the Zabaleen’s Right to the City (2004)
[click to view]

[4] Cairo’s Contested Garbage: Sustainable Solid Waste Management and the Zabaleen’s Right to the City (2010)
[click to view]

[1] Municipal Solid Waste Management in Egypt - Focus on Cairo (04/2012)
[click to view]

[22] Zabbaleen: Trash Town (05/2016)
[click to view]

[2] Towards Sustainable Management of Solid Waste in Egypt
[click to view]

[23] Garbage Dreams: A documentary about the Zabbaleen (04/2009)
[click to view]

[2] Towards Sustainable Management of Solid Waste in Egypt
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[36] Egypt Set to Clean Streets by Imposing Garbage Fine (04/2018)
[click to view]

President’s controversial waste collection programme becomes institutionalised
[click to view]

[39] Waste-to-Energy for a Sustainable Future in Egypt (06/2018)
[click to view]

[9] Despite a new regime, Cairo’s garbage collectors face the same hardships (02/2013)
[click to view]

[7] Waste not: Egypt's refuse collectors regain role at heart of Cairo society
[click to view]

[21] Cairo Municipal Solid Waste Management Project : Project Information Document (Concept Stage) (12/2014)
[click to view]

[25] Spirit of Youth: Empowering the Zabaleen through education and integration into the formal Waste Management sector of Cairo
[click to view]

[25] Spirit of Youth: Empowering the Zabaleen through education and integration into the formal Waste Management sector of Cairo (Date unknown)
[click to view]

[7] Waste not: Egypt's refuse collectors regain role at heart of Cairo society (03/2014)
[click to view]

[24] The “Garbage People”: The Faces of Cairo’s Trash System (04/2019)
[click to view]

[8] President’s controversial waste collection programme becomes institutionalised
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[23] Garbage Dreams: A documentary about the Zabbaleen (04/2009)
[click to view]

[22] Zabbaleen: Trash Town (05/2016)
[click to view]

Other comments:Disclaimer: The introduction, in this case, is based on information until approximately early 2018. The references to this part of the case are those numbered by [1]-[21] at the end of the case. In the second part of the case some updates are given on the situation after 2017. This is when various contracts with multinationals regarding Egypt’s (and specifically Cairo’s) waste management ended.
Meta information
Contributor:Catherine Moughalian, Asfari Institute, AUB and Chandni Dwarkasing - EnvJustice ICTA-UAB
Last update22/12/2018
Comments
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