Though they are responsible for collecting, recycling and disposing most of Cairo’s municipal solid waste, the zabaleen are finding themselves trapped, as even new governing bodies remain unable, or downright refuse, to recognize them as the city’s official waste management workforce.
Cairo produces about 14,000 tons of solid waste daily, according to statistics from the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency. More than 60 percent of that is removed from residents’ doorsteps early in the morning, while most Cairenes are still asleep.
The zabaleen, who number between 80,000 and 150,000, take this waste back to their neighborhoods — mainly Manshiyet Nasser and at the foot of the Moqattam hills — and then proceed to manage and dispose of the waste efficiently by hand, recycling about 80 percent.
However, despite employing them in this job decades ago, the government does not officially recognize them, and they continue to live hand to mouth, day by day, in extreme poverty, with little to no access to health and social services. (Egypt independent)