This unbelievable city piled high with trash is a real place called Garbage City, outside of Cairo in Egypt. It’s populated by a community of workers called Zabbaleen, who personally collect, sort, reuse, resell or otherwise repurpose Cairo’s waste. Recently several photographers have trained their cameras upon the city, and now we see what it would really be like to live in the aftermath of our own consumption.
So here we are, on our green design blog, talking about confonting the waste produced by modern consumptive habits, reduce, reuse, get a pop-top purse, etcetera, and suddenly this photo shows up. This oddly fascinating metropolis is actually a very efficient waste management system: food scraps are fed to livestock, what can be repaired is, and everything else is recycled, sold for scrap, or burned for fuel. The Zabbaleen live at poverty levels but live a long-held tradition of scavenging as skill. Not surprisignly, many photographers have become facinated with the community.
Bas Princen recently displayed a photo at the Netherlands Architecture Institute. Klavs Bo Christensen has a stunning collection of black and white images on Lightstalkers. Alexander Heilner documents a drearier day-to-day on Marketplace. At every angle, Garbage City feels like what the world would look like if someone grabbed it by the corner and shook it.
Cairo has attempted to replace this mass of independent workers with multinational waste management corporations, putting an already impoverished community at risk. To make matters worse, the government ordered a widespread slaughter of pigs earlier this year in an attempt to curtail the potential spread of swine flu. These are the same pigs to whom the Zabbaleen fed compotable waste. The result has reportedly been a trash-strewn Cairo. Which meant, at least in September, that many Egyptians might have felt a little like Zabbaleen.