Understanding Integrated Environmental Systems
In 2009, the Egyptian government made a decision to kill all pigs in the city, about 300,000 (Slackman 2009). Up until this point, pigs were used to in Cairo to eat tons of organic waste. Each day in Cairo, Egypt, the city produces more than 15,000 tons of solid waste (Zafar, 2012). “Now the pigs are gone and the rotting food piles up on the streets of middle-class neighborhoods” (Zafar, 2012). Egyptian Christian minorities are known as rag pickers, or Zabbaleen, a community of people who live on the cliffs on the eastern edge of the city. They collected the trash, sold the recyclables and fed the organic waste to their pigs — which they then slaughtered and ate. In 2009, this system was disrupted when all of the pigs were slaughtered in response to a swine-flu epidemic. “The Zabbaleen collect around 60 percent of the total solid waste generated in Cairo and recycle up to 80 percent of the collected waste which is much higher than recycling efficiencies observed in the Western world” (Zafar, 2012). They have created a very sustainable and efficient system for garbage removal, that was completely disrupted by the mass slaughter. Although the waste continued to pile up, the Zabbaleen were unable to continue collecting and recycling trash in the same way.
Cairo is a metropolis area that is 453 square kilometers and hosts nearly fifteen million people. Until the pigs were slaughtered, it was customary for residents to dump their trash in front of their house where Zabbaleen and their pigs would take care of the clean-up. When the pigs were slaughtered, this affected about 400,000 people in Zabbaleen families who no longer had means to efficiently get rid of organic waste that they had been feeding to the pigs. It is estimated that the Zabbaleen were collecting 6,000 tons of trash a day, and 60 percent of that was food waste. Private carters collected an additional 2,000 tons a day (Slackman 2009). With the pigs gone, the organic waste is piling up. This is causing serious ecological and public health issues and, “disposal of solid waste in water bodies has led to contamination of water supplies in several parts of the city” (Zafar, 2012).
After witnessing and experience the backlash of the slaughter, some officials in the city have slowly begun to recognize the important role pigs and Zabbaleen play in the waste collection and disposal sector of the city. Pigs are quietly making a comeback although efforts to completely reintroduce them has been halted in some areas.
Since 2009, the city has tried to employ different tactics of waste management by hiring different private sectors. These foreign companies however, ended up dumping all of the waste into landfills which also became a significant problem. The organic waste dumped, turns into methane when improperly composted and poses environmental threats.
Slackman, Michael. Cleaning Cairo but Taking a Livelihood. 24 May 2009. 15 January 2014.
Zafar, Salman. Garbage Woes in Cairo. 23 October 2012. 15 January 2014.