International Conversation on Zero Waste, May 2014

Date: 5 May 2014 | posted in: waste - recycling, waste - zero waste, Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

During a recent e-mail interchange, Mal Williams of Zero Waste Wales, Plasnewydd, Cardiff, reported on disappearing waste in that country. In order to maximize efficiency, add value to collected recyclables and reduce available materials for incineration, co-mingled recycling (single stream), is being phased out.

Nancy Gorrell, Berkeley, CA commented:
Hooray for Wales! Here in Berkeley, we are having to restructure rate fees, because recycling has replaced garbage.

Mary Lou Van Deventer, Urban Ore, Berkeley, CA, commented:
Quite so. Berkeley’s rates are based on garbage, which is dwindling, and therefore income is falling, leading to higher rates to pay for everything.  Garbage income finances recycling, so as garbage falls and recycling increases, recycling is doing more work but there’s less money to cover it.  Moreover, City Hall actually refuses to restructure the rates because they are convinced the people want to think recycling is free.  And they won’t tell.  (Recyclers want to get paid – shh.)

Recycling deserves its own fees.

Neil Seldman commented:
Recyclers need a fair share.

Mal Williams then provided this interesting update on the Zabbaleen of Cairo, Egypt:
Fair share – yes indeed. It’s amazing how this works around the globe isn’t it. We get bogged down in the local by-law detail of all this whilst over 50% of the globe scavenges on the waste tip

The Zabbaleen in Cairo are real heroes of the environment. They have been “voluntarily” collecting garbage from every apartment –currently 5 million plus – EVERY DAY since about 1949. Until the Mubarrak government culled their 350,000 pigs because of swine flu they existed on the proceeds of that pig rearing (they sold 80% of them) and since the 70’s the revenue from the dry recyclate they also collected.

They have 5 million individual informal household contracts and the city of Cairo depends on them for it entirely.

However until a few weeks ago not they received not a penny for ACTUALLY DOING THE COLLECTION WORK. The government money US$50million per annum goes to European waste companies who throw a few skips around the city for people to fill up because they know the Zabbaleen collect 85% of the stuff that arises and recycle it –YES 85%. Higher than San Francisco OR South Australia and they themselves didn’t realise they are world leaders because they are the lowly “Cairo waste collectors.”

The Zabbaleen are 175,000 Coptic Christian ex pig-farmers from Egypt’s south, driven to Cairo to scavenge food scraps to feed their pigs because of severe drought between 1944 and 1949, looked down upon by an essentially Muslim community in Cairo because they live at subsistence level in family groups –now in inner city ghettos (lots of google images here).

Dr Laila Iskandar has worked with these guys for 20 years or more – she won the Goldman prize in 1994 for her efforts and was appointed as the Environment minister in Egypt’s post-Morsi government to “solve the waste problem” a problem created by previous government’s trying to ignore the Zabbaleen contribution.

Laila has now “officially recognised” their contribution and is working with money provided by the Gates foundation Spirit of Youth Project – to “formalise” the Zabbaleen operations (i.e., make them look like serious operators by incorporating them and getting them to make plans to modernise)  – currently they still use donkey carts and it’s all very family scale. But the product they present to market is top notch quality and they seem to get a reasonable price for it (difficult to be sure of that of course).

If you walked into a city where some company was extracting 85% of the garbage and recycling it for free – what would you do??

Follow Neil Seldman:
Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Recycling and Economic Growth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and is a member of ILSR's Board of Directors.