Sunday, April 24, 2011

Waste Collection as a Resource and a Way of Life: Garbage, Recycling, Community and Egypt's ultra efficient trash sorters, the Zabaleen.

In his TEDxYYC (Calagary, Canada) talk, James Furniss sets out to convince us that we can learn more about recycling from the Zabaleen of Egypt than from Singapore (who represents the extreme of the western model of trash removal). He says that the most dynamic developments in the world of waste are happening in the developing world by people who are not environmentalists.

The Zabaleen collect trash from city streets of Egypt and recycle it through hand sorting, claiming to recycle 80% of what they collect.  In his talk, Furniss brings up the conflict between the "Sanitary Landfill" method of trash handling which is about rapid removal of material to distant places and the Zabaleen's trash as a resource method.  He points out that the reason the reason most of the recyclers are Christians is that Christians are free to raise pigs which are excellent converters of food waste into meat.

Unfortunately in 2009, Egyptian officials slaughtered as many of the country's 300,000 garbage eating pigs due to a mix of religious prejudice and unfounded fear of a swine flue epidemic.  The loss of pigs caused organic waste to pile up which caused officials to see the flaws in their plan according to this Mother Earth Network article.

While Furniss's talk includes some excellent images of the Zabaleen community, the trailer for Lauren McCarthy's film "Zabaleen" brings out the beauty of their neighborhoods and people.  The details of Egyptian vernacular rascuachismo design amid the garbage is striking.

Zabaleen: A Documentary Film by Lauren McCarthy TEASER from Zabaleen on Vimeo.

A more melancholy point of view is found in the film "Garbage Dreams".  A major political problem for the Zabaleen involves Egypt's attempts to implement the western solution for hiding trash rather than reusing it.

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