Definitions for Zabbaleen
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One of a minority religious community of Coptic Christians who work as Cairo's informal garbage collectors.
The Zabbaleen are teenagers and adults who have served as Cairo's informal garbage collectors for approximately the past 70 to 80 years. Zabbaleen means "Garbage people" in Egyptian Arabic. The Zabbaleen are also known as Zarraba, which means "pig-pen operators." Spread out among seven different settlements scattered in the Greater Cairo Urban Region, the Zabbaleen population is between 50,000 and 70,000. The largest settlement is Mokattam village, nicknamed as "Garbage City," located at the foot of the Mokattam Mountains, next to Manshiyat Naser. The Zabbaleen community in Mokattam Village has a population of around 20,000 to 30,000, over 90 percent of which are Coptic Christians. For several generations, the Zabbaleen supported themselves by collecting trash door-to-door from the residents of Cairo for nearly no charge. Notably, the Zabbaleen 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 Zabbaleen 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 in Mokattam Village, sort the garbage there, and then sell the sorted garbage to middlemen or create new materials from their recycled garbage. The living situation for the Zabbaleen is poor, 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 Zabbaleen 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 multinational garbage disposal companies.
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