Photographers Capture Life in Garbage City

All photos: Bas Princen, Klavs Bo Christensen and Alexander Heilner

Outside Egypt's capital, in the shadow of the Pyramids and tucked in the mountains of Mokattam, is an incredible city that literally survives on trash. Garbage City, as it's known, is home to 30,000 Zabaleens-- Coptic Christians from southern Egypt
--who, each day, enter Cairo and collect its waste. 60 percent of the trash produced in Cairo passes through Garbage City to be recycled. It is an amazing sight, awash in refuse.Recently, photographers Bas Princen, Klavs Bo Christensen and Alexander Heilner visited Garbage City and returned with some captivating images that depict the close, day-to-day relationship between the Zabaleens and the garbage. Piles of the stuff are virtually everywhere, a fact that these recyclers-by-trade seem none too concerned with.

The garbage collecting process is so organized, Cairo has had no need to create a government sponsored program, relying fully upon the residents of Garbage City to collect their trash. Just a single pair of Zabaleens, working with a horse-drawn carriage, are able to collect the trash from 350 of Cairo's homes and businesses. They are not paid for their labor either, as the profiting from recycling is enough for many to live on.

In fact, some Zabaleens are efficient enough at trash collecting and recycling that they can earn as much as three times the average income of a person in Cairo, according to Carl Bartone, a senior project officer for the Integrated Resource Recovery Project at the World Bank.

The place may seem a mess, but once the trash is sorted through, a whopping 90 percent of it ends up reused or recycled. Whatever organic waste they find is fed to the city's 350 thousand pigs--that's right, there are more pigs than people in Garbage City. When they get big enough, they can be sold at market for additional profit. The pig droppings and even human excrement are sold to farmers to use as fertilizer.

Life in Garbage City is not an easy one though, as you might imagine. The Zabaleens are reportedly despised by the residents of Cairo--and probably aren't invited to many dinner parties. Diseases associated with living in unsanitary conditions are common and other, privately owned garbage collecting businesses are cutting into their business. Recently too, they were forced to kill many of their pigs due to fears about the swine-flu.

While Garbage City probably isn't high on your list of travel destinations, it's difficult not to be inspired by their relationship with what so many others see no value in. The way the Zabaleens have made an industry out of garbage really shows the true potential of an organized recycling lifestyle and offers a new definition of the word 'trash' to a world that produces so much of it.

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Tags: Egypt | Pollution | Recycling | Waste

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