Manshiyat Nasser, or as it is more popularly known, Garbage City,“ is a slum settlement with a population of around 60,000 on the outskirts of the Moqattam Hills, within Cairo’s sprawling metropolitan area.
The village is notable for having nearly every space of it covered in garbage, including the streets and rooftops of the settlement. These piles of garbage are the result of the Cairo Metropolitan Area having never established an efficient garbage collecting system, despite having a population of nearly 20 million.
The inhabitants of Manshiyat Nasser, mostly Coptic Christians, have filled this gap for the past 70 years. These informal garbage collectors, called the Zabbaleen or "Garbage people,“ collect the garbage of Cairo’s residents in a door-to-door service for a small fee and then transport it via donkey carts or pick-up trucks to their homes in Manshiyat Nasser. Once home, they sort the garbage for recyclable material. The collecting of the trash is traditionally the men’s work, while women and children sort the garbage.
Although antiquated on its face, the efficiency of the recycling system of the Zabbaleen is remarkable. Almost 90 percent of the garbage is recycled, which is four times the percentage most Western recycling companies produce.
Living conditions are poor in Manshiyat Nasser and the living situation is unsurprisingly unhealthy. But during the last years, the lives of the Zabbaleen have gotten worse as a result of two decisions of the Cairo municipal government. In 2003 the government hired private companies for the garbage disposal, which today the Zabbaleen have to compete against.
Six years later, in a preventive measure against the threat of an outbreak of the swine flu, the Cairo government ordered the culling of all 350,000 pigs in Manshiyat Nasser. Traditionally, pigs have always been an important factor in the lives of the Zabbaleen, since they cleared the garbage of all organic waste and their meat was later sold to hotels and restaurants catering to non-Muslim tourists.
The village has received much attention following the release of the 2009 documentary film Garbage Dreams, which won the Al Gore Reel Current Award. Since the release of the film, Manshiyat Nasser has become something of an off-the-beaten-path tourist attraction for adventuresome individuals.