Garbage Dreams

About This Episode


On the outskirts of Cairo lies the world’s largest garbage village: a labyrinth of narrow roadways camouflaged by trash and home to 60,000 Zaballeen (“garbage people”). With a population of 18 million and no sanitation service, these entrepreneurial Coptic Christians have maintained what could be the world’s most efficient waste disposal system by recycling nearly all of the city’s waste.

In 2003, Cairo sold multi-million dollar contracts to corporations to do what the Zaballeen have been doing for generations. These corporations, contractually obligated to recycle only 20 percent of the waste they collect, are leaving the rest to rot in giant landfills. As a result, the Zaballeen are forced to watch their way of life disappear.

Garbage Dreams follows three teenage boys born into the trade: 17-year-old Adham, 16-year-old Osama and 18-year-old Nabil. Laila, a community activist, who also teaches the boys at their neighborhood Recycling School, guides Adham and Osama as they transition into adulthood at a time when the community is at a crossroads.