It's 3:25 in the morn here in Cairo. I'm writing this now because I probably won't have time for another entry until who knows when. And from what I've heard it's always good to write when things are fresh in your mind. Although my mind is far from fresh, I do feel like giving it a go since today was nothing short of epic.
First I should give a disclaimer since this blog seems to drift from one topic to another. Up With Hope started by working in informal recycling. We have been working in this sector in Nairobi, Kenya for many years and will most likely continue to do so. I have a perpetual radar for new and existing technologies or methods that emerge in informal recycling. Today was one of those days where I learned about as much as my mind could retain, jotting frantically with the pen and notepad. This was not a photoshoot for me so I only took some crappy pics with my cell phone but they give a bit of the vibe of this unbelievable place.
For years I have heard of the Zabaleen (Arabic for Garbage Collectors) They are some of the most renound and effecient recyclers in the world. During my travels to Egypt I had always been apprehensive about finding where they work due to my uninterest in bothering people who are hard at work. This was until a certain Egyptian NGO the Egyptian Youth Federation said they would arrange a visit for me during an appropriate time. I was anxious to see what I could learn from this group since they are able to recycle over 80% of the municipal waste they collect. Most private garbage collection businesses in the west usually recover under 20% of recyclables.
At 11 oclock this morning I was escorted into a neighborhood called Manshiyat Naser. When I say neighborhood I mean massive slum with what I was told has close to one million residents (Cairo is probably over ten million now). Kazem, my guide says to me "As you can tell by the smell, we have arrived" I had gathered this already (my nose is severly broken and do not have much sense of smell) from seeing an extremely familiar site. Trucks, hundreds of them, carrying sacs upon sacs carrying recyclables. I was under the impression I was going to a yard where there were some machines and people seperating plastic and other materials from the waste. Maybe at the most I thought, I would see some effecient ways of doing waste seperation and learn some techniques to bring back to Kenya. This was not the case. The entire district of Manshiyat naser is recycling. Every building, every corner, every person is recycling.
Trucks fill the streets going back and forth carrying every kind of material you can imagine, all seperated from municipal waste and brought to the appropriate business to deal with it. The Zabaleen have been dealing with waste in Cairo for well over half a century. They have schools to teach kids how to read and write and then they teach them how to recycle, they even teach them math through recycling,
e.g. If I buy 156 kgs of plastic at 50 piasters/kg, I will process this plastic in the machine and sell it at 150 piasters minus the 9 kgs of waste I removed from the plastic, how much money will I have?
Get the picture?
The schools also serve as resource centres. I visited one inspiring school/NGO called "Spirit of Youth". Their mission statement carries a message we should all be working towards:
SOY is dedicated to providing empowering opportunities to children and youths who are denied their basic rights to learn and earn, to improve their environment and to strengthen their capacities to enable them to advocate for their causes.
Plastic shredding machine in the school for kids to bring plastics, earn something and learn what its all about.
The whole time I was thinking "Wow, we got a lot of work to do back in Nairobi"
I walked for hours around Manshiyat naser visiting different businesses who were all a peice of the puzzle to help deal with the 14,000 tonnes of municipal waste that is produced every day in Cairo. Yah, 14,000 tonnes.
I'm not even going to try to explain what you are looking at but just imagine that it is amazing.
As I was being escorted out of the neighborhood towards the end of the tour, a young man named Moussa who was answering all my questions wanted to show me another business that compacts PET plastic into cubes which are hen sold to China. I walked into the dark warehouse and was once again at a loss for words. There before me was a tiny girl no older than 7 years operating the gigantic hydraulic press as two eleventeen year old boys pushed the weighty cubes into a corner.
"Moussa this is crazy" I said.
Moussa replied very quickly.
"No this is not crazy, this is Egypt"