The Zabbaleen – Functional Informal Waste Management in Cairo – Part I


By Jakob Hebsaker and Renard Teipelke*

Waste management might belong to those urban issues that are best managed when we do not recognize them. Once we are complaining about dirty streets or overflowing trash cans, we are reminded of hidden waste management being a true backbone of the urban system. In Cairo, Egypt, the waste management system has its roots in the 1880s. Former oasis inhabitants, the Wahis, were migrating into Cairo and started to earn their living by picking up the waste of every household and selling it to public baths which used the waste for heating. After oil heating replaced the waste burning in the 1920s, the Wahis began to sell the waste to Coptic immigrants from the South of Egypt which used the organic waste of the trash for feeding their pigs.

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