Making a 'sustainable living' out of waste bins

Adham El Sharkawy, 27, who made a “sustainable living” out of waste bins in Cairo.

KUALA LUMPUR- For many, garbage is disposed of without a thought. Not for Adham El Sharkawy, 27, who made a "sustainable living" out of waste bins in Cairo.

Adham is from the Zabaleen community, which lives by collecting and recycling trash from the city.

"I was initially sent to school, but had to stop after two years to help my family by going to work.

"I tried working at a factory but it was too taxing, so I went to collect trash with the other men and boys," said Adham, who was then eight years old.

The Zabaleen community live in five "garbage villages" around Cairo and practice a unique method of recycling or source separation.

"We gather the trash in our villages and the women would separate organic and non-organic materials, later moving on to smaller classifications.

"This way, 80 per cent of our trash is recycled, compared to modern methods which only recycle 30 per cent," he said.

Adham was here on Saturday to receive the inaugural ASTI Innovation in Community Award, which recognises people and groups who use innovative methods to improve the community.

His own recycling company is based in Moqattam Hills in the Egyptian capital - a place known for its informal yet efficient recycling systems.

While he is glad that he and many others have made a decent living from trash, Adham is concerned that multinational companies are being tasked with managing Cairo's waste.

At the moment, about 60,000 Zabaleen recycle more than 4,000 tons of trash each day, of which half are organic and used to feed animals.