As you probably read in last week’s Sunday Times, the Egyptian government may now regret having killed all the pigs in Cairo in a misguided effort to prevent the spread of Swine Flu. With no pigs to feed, the Zabaleen have no reason to go door to door collecting food scraps anymore, which means more trash ends up in the streets.
Filmmaker Mai Iskander emailed me after the piece ran to remind me that her documentary Garbage Dreams about three young men growing up in Cairo’s trash picking community touches on one of the core issues of the day: source separation.
It’s an interesting lens to put to the developed world. What distinguishes modern countries from those struggling to “catch up” isn’t just the fact that we have high-tech recycling facilities, it’s that we are more or less willing to sort our trash in our own homes.
The Zabaleen hope that by encouraging their neighbors to pre-sort trash, they can hang on to a piece of the profits from the waste industry before foreign waste hauling companies eclipse the need for local trash pickers. And it looks like their campaign is finally getting some buy-in from local authorities.
Sadly, there no longer seems to be much call to sort out food waste as well. Let’s hope the increased trash in the streets at the very least serves as a political tool encouraging Egyptians to think about what happens to trash after it leaves the home and what they might do to reduce waste and recycle more.