The Zabaleen is a word which literally means "garbage people" in Arabic. The contemporary use of the word in Egyptian Arabic is to mean "garbage collectors". Spread out among seven different settlements scattered in the Greater Cairo Urban Region, the Zabaleen population is estimated to be approximately 100.000.The largest settlement is Mokattam village, nicknamed "Garbage City," located at the foot of the Mokattam Mountains, next to Manshiyat Naser. The Zabaleen community in Mokattam Village has a population of around 50,000 to 60,000, over 90 percent of which are Coptic Christians.



The Zabaleen use donkey-pulled carts and pick-up trucks to transport the garbage that they collect from the residents of Cairo, transport the garbage to their homes, sort the garbage there, and then sell the sorted garbage to middlemen or create new materials from their recycled garbage. The living condition for the Zabaleen is critical, especially since they live amongst the trash that they sort in their village and with the pigs to which they feed their organic waste. Nevertheless, the Zabaleen have formed a strong and tight-knit community. However, their existence and way of life has come under threat after the Cairo municipal authorities’ decision in 2003 to award annual contracts of $50 million to three European garbage disposal companies.





For several generations, the Zabaleen have supported themselves by collecting trash door-to-door from the residents of Cairo for nearly no charge. Notably, the Zabaleen recycle up to 80 percent of the waste that they collect, whereas most Western garbage collecting companies can only recycle 20 to 25 percent of the waste that they collect.
The government authorities do not compensate the Zabaleen for these changes, and as a result, the takeover of waste collection threatens the socio-economic sustainability of the Zabaleen community. In April 2009 the Zabaleen faced another challenge when the Egyptian Agricultural Ministry ordered the culling of all pigs, in response to national fears over the possible spread of H1N1 influenza (swine flu). This governmental decision posed a major setback to the Zabaleen because pigs are an essential component to their recycling and sorting system, in which the pigs eat all of the organic waste. Immediately after the culling of pigs, observers noticed a visible increase of trash piles and piles of rotting food on the streets of Cairo. There are also worries that the Egyptian government is seeking to remove the Mokattam village entirely and relocate the Zabaleen further outside of Cairo by a further 25 km, in Cairo's eastern desert settlement of Katameya.