Cairo’s Contested Garbage: Sustainable Solid Waste Management and the Zabaleen’s Right to the City
Over the decades, the Zabaleen , the traditional waste (garbage) collectors of Cairo, have created what is arguably one of the world’s most efficient and sustainable resource-recovery and waste-recycling systems. Yet the continuation of this intricate relationship between community, environment and livelihood is jeopardized by the official privatization of municipal solid waste (MSW) services through contracts with technology-intensive multinational corporations which threatens the sustainability of the garbage collectors’ communities by removing access to their chief economic asset, waste or garbage. The situation is exacerbated by an official policy of moving the Zabaleen and their MSW sorting, recovery, trading and recycling activities further out of the city, on the grounds that this will turn their neighbourhoods into cleaner and healthier living environments. The consumption of Cairo’s sites of MSW collection and sorting open new socio-political spaces for conflict between multi-national companies and the Zabaleen ’s traditional system. This is further indicated in the way Cairo’s waste materials have been subjected to new claims and conflict, as they are seen as a ‘commodity’ by global capital entrepreneurs and multi-national corporations, and as a source of ‘livelihood’ by the disadvantaged and marginalised Zabaleen population.
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