Case Study: Integrated Community-Based Solid Waste Management (Qalyubeya, Egypt)

2019-01-30 00:00:00

By Azza Sirry / Housing and Building National Research Center of Egypt 

Qalyubeya was a winner of the 3rd Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation in 2016. This study tour took place during October 10th and 11th, 2017.

Municipal waste is a major problem in Egypt, and it is even more so in Greater Cairo Region, where 45% of the national municipal waste is generated. Over the last 2 decades, waste service in Egypt has been driven mainly by the private sector. Studies in this regard indicated the importance of the roles played by the informal waste operators and local communities in waste management and have recommended the formalization of informal waste collection and recycling process. Waste production and household practices are different between urban and rural areas. In rural or semi-rural areas, food from households is fed to animals. Post-harvest waste is converted into fuel, and the excesses are home-composted and used to condition the soil. The composition of waste generated in rural areas is particularly suited to such practices as it is mainly organic. Although the newly introduced plastic bags started to appear as waste of both urban and rural areas, causing problems, urban communities produce more nonorganic waste.


The waste collectors (“Zabbaleen” in Arabic) live and operate within several areas around cities, especially around Greater Cairo Region. The largest settlement in GCR is in Mokkattam, Manshiat Naser, but there are others including Khosos and Barageel. The old practice of Zabbaleen or garbage collectors was to go door-to-door from the residents of Cairo for very low charge. They used to sort the garbage and recycle about 80 % of the waste. They used the houses for sorting and raised pigs on the organic and some non-organic waste. The living situation for the Zabbaleen is poor. Some development initiatives had introduced locally made plastic crushers and cloth grinders to recycle waste. This tended gradually to change the Zabbaleen’s role; they had previously acted more as sorters than recyclers. The scheme eventually involved the development of techniques to reclaim plastics, cloth, paper, aluminum, and tin. As a result, many of the original pig breeders found a new role in the micro-enterprise sector and sold their pigs to become recyclers. They are also faced with a challenge in 2009 when the Egyptian Agricultural Ministry ordered the culling of all pigs, in response to national fears over the possible spread of H1N1 influenza.

By 1990, the Cairo and Giza Governorates forbade waste collection in donkey carts and formalized the subcontracting of door-to-door waste collection. As a result, many Zabbaleen formed co-operatives to be able to buy pick-up trucks to continue their waste collection services.

The increased urban growth rate in Egypt has been coupled with growth of environmental problems. Some of them could be traced to the solid waste management (SWM), which became a challenge. Thus, in 1999, the national government launched a program to have a sustainable solution to solid waste through the privatization of SWM in 11 priority governorates by contracting international private sector operators. The government also adopted new legislation and means of enforcement. Studies and assessments have been given to the privatization trend, indicating its failure to resolve the problem and causing hardship on the Zabbaleen community. Consequently, many new initiatives have been put forward to revitalize the old Zabbaleen practice of recycling under the condition of reducing its negative effects. 

The main objective of the initiative was improving the integrated SWM in Qalyubeya concentrating on the city of Khosoos, where garbage collectors live, and Khanka, where the main landfill is and the line of sorting was located. The initiative had 5 key objectives:

1. Developing integrated SWM strategy through the participation of all stakeholders;

2. Raising the awareness among key actors on challenges and potentials of solid waste and their roles and responsibilities;

3. Building capacity of stakeholders;

4. Improving the living conditions of informal waste collectors and recyclers;

5. Creating a sustainable structure for SWM that includes recycling. 


The project started with meeting the community of solid waste collection and recycling local community and tried to formulate the initiative. Seven community committees constituted by 56 members were established, whose events were attended by more than 1,000 participants. Meetings were held and campaigns were conducted. The campaigns targeted at the community and local staff; thus, relations were built and everyone’s needs were included. The campaigns, which used material that sought to raise awareness and provided training for people, were participated by teachers, students, and city council staff. 

Scattered solid waste, dirty streets, and the incapability of cleansing department to clean streets were main issues discussed at the meeting. Despite contracts with companies, the monitoring was weak. The institutional deficiencies in SWM was studied by PDP GIZ and GIS was introduced to better manage the contracts. The project started with some set objectives. Later, through the meetings with stakeholders, community, women, and youth, other objectives were set and other programs were launched such as raising awareness and improving the living conditions, micro-scale recycling-based income generation initiative, and health initiative. The flexibility of donor enabled the introduction of 5 more programs and smaller initiatives that were integrated with the original one, so the transformation of Khosoos and the community of solid waste collectors became more effective. To start the project, a baseline study was conducted and problems were identified by participatory methods.

After several meetings with all actors of the governorate, Khanka, Khosoos, and informal waste collectors reached an agreement. An integrated strategy was formulated, identifying roles and responsibilities of each actor. The integrated approach included:  

(1) Create new private companies – changing from informal collectors to formalized collectors.

(2) Establish 2 SWM units in Khanka and Khosoos. The staff received training in downloading Google maps and GIS. The staff were also trained on monitoring performance of waste operators through tracking the waste collectors’ size with special devices, and tracking the collection cars with GPS devices placed on cars. The staff now monitor the work of collectors from 11 city sectors, among which 9 contracted to formalized private sectors and NGOs and 2 collected by the cleaning department of the city.

(3) Produce RDF material as an alternative energy through Integrated Resource Recycling Center (IRRC) facility or through small-scale manual sorting of the private sector in order to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and produce energy.

(4) Improve the life standard of solid waste collectors by creating new jobs, investing in startups, giving them tricycles, or formalizing the informal business.

(5) Build awareness from young age through campaigns in schools, offering training for teachers and environmental summer camps, and providing resource separation containers. The teachers were trained on how some recycled material, especially recycled paper, can be reused for art activities;

(6) The IRRC facility started using existing separation line (set in 2009 but was never used) and added a new one. The facility separated paper, plastics, and biodegradable waste, which were used as fuel for many industries. Cement was mainly used to separate and produce bio nutrients/organic compost. It had never been used before, and the initiative decided to adopt and upgrade this line and add another one to produce RDF as energy.

The second line was tendered and Econ, an Egyptian local company, won the bid. It used local technologies. The IRRC Facility is managed by Geocycle under the supervision of coordination committee from local administration on Khanka. Qalyubeya produces 4000 tons of solid waste daily, of which 200-400 ton goes to IRRC Facility. Vehicles containing construction waste go directly to the landfill while the home waste vehicles go to IRRC Facility. Involved by GIZ/PDP, the project started in 2010 and finished in 2014. In the IRRC facility the following process took place:

  • Car entering weighting 

  • Waste put on belt  

  • Waste is separated through automatic and manual selection 

  • The part containing organic material go to produce nutrients 

  • The paper and other material is dried and goes to be RDF

The machines were designed and manufactured in Arab industries agency.

The transfer station in Khosoos was a solution to the problem of distance between Khosoos waste collection community and Khanka landfill and IRRC facility. Contractors collecting waste from streets or houses transfer it to the transfer station; then bigger vehicles transfer it to Khanka. This way contractor vehicles can make more than one round a day and streets are cleaner. This station reduces the collection tour by 50%.


The project has improved the environment of Khosoos city, raised the living conditions of local residents, alleviated the problem of solid waste, and created new jobs without affecting the current ones.

For Khosoos city, at least two shifts and daily coverage of the whole city are arranged. Thus, the streets are cleaner now, and the number of garbage sites are reduced from 400 to 40.


1. Challenge of waste collection and transportation

Before collection, streets solid waste and litter is accumulated at particular corners. This leads to complaints sometimes by companies that the waste will be scattered again by people if it is not collected in time, meaning additional work for them.

It is also remarked that some waste is still collected, sorted, diffused, and resold in the old manner. The collection of household waste is one example, as collectors of household waste, which is the main waste needed for IRRC facility, tend to sell the waste after sorting. Thus, the waste will go to certain industry. There are no penalties or incentives for home garbage collectors to go to the IRRC facility with unsorted garbage.

Long routes is another problem. It takes a long time and distance to travel from the transfer station in Khosoos to Khanka IRRC facility and landfill. The long routes made more frequent the maintenance of even the new cars given by the initiative, especially the new expensive tires. This challenge may be solved through raising the capacity of the transfer station or adding recycling parts in it.

The challenge of waste collection also poses the problem of over-capacity. The capacity of IRRC facility is bigger than the amount of waste received. The facility started by having two lines working 24x7. Now the working hours have been reduced to 12x6, and some parts of the line have been stopped as it gets gamed.

2. Challenges of management and supervision

Furthermore, there are a large number of vehicles and waste collecting entities, some of which refuse to go to IRRC facility and go to landfill instead. The recycling company have no say or cannot force the driver to go to IRRC Facility if what he is carrying in the car is fit for RDF.

In terms of supervision, the traditional method of “Personalized Site Supervision" of cars and collection from waste dumping sites can no longer satisfy management demands. The supervisors have to use new equipment to measure the total removal (or not) of the solid waste at the sites. If not, the defaulters/contractors are given a fine, of which the supervisor gets 5%. 

3. Challenge of studies and analysis

The city has not done enough surveys to collect data on types and amount of household waste, say, in comparison to housing units or number of family members. And there has been no study of the effect of source segregation of waste or near the transfer station as a comparison to total solid waste collected from streets. Thus, the city cannot provide indication of whether source segregation could be more efficient.

Neither has there been enough cost and benefit analysis. The costs can be calculated by the finance given on starting the initiative for construction and equipment as well as the running costs, i.e. the cost for each ton of waste removed from streets. This has to be studied against the benefit from selling the RDF and reducing environmental hazard (intangibles).

4. Challenge of finance

City financial resources are insufficient for financing collection from streets, maintenance of government vehicles (bought by GIZ) as well as GPS equipment, and so on. Besides, the transfer station in Khosoos has been handed, along with 3 trucks and 10 containers, down to the city to manage. So, the city might have to ask Qalyubeya Governorate for funds or take fees from housing units and/or national subsidy. 

5. Challenge of working conditions

The working conditions for workers in the private waste collection companies (formalized ones) might be a challenge. It is unclear during this tour whether there are fixed/regular health check-ups. And there is no special vaccination program, for instance, for tetanus and hepatitis AB. 

While they work, the waste collectors lack special equipment such as brooms or dustpans for removing solid waste without picking it up from the ground, after cleaning the streets. Also, no masks are given to them.


The integrated community-based SWM in Qalyubeya is a waste initiative that integrated several local units, mainly Khanka and Khosoos. It incorporated several smaller initiatives as the project developed. A necessity assessment conducted by GIZ/PDP in Khosoos city indicated the needs for cleaning the streets and health intervention. It has overcome several bottlenecks through collaboration of different stakeholders. The initiative is considered innovative due to the following: 

1. It is a public-private participation initiative with Lafarge contract, IRRC Facility, and later private-sector waste collectors.

2. The process of tendering waste collection to newly created companies of informal waste collectors. Negotiations with municipality and changing of set areas according to more accurate data of houses until the signing and implementation of contract, the supervision using new technologies is innovative. 

3. The Khosoos public waste collection and intermediate stations have been designed in a specific method, wherein the waste is collected without sorting then transported to plants where it is sorted and turned into RDF.

4. Technologies of the IRRC facility and machines of the plants were manufactured in Egypt. Some filtering technologies were added in accordance with the collected unsorted waste.  

5. The cooperation between government entities and private companies helped create the know-how in the city, and hopefully it can be replicated around the country. 

6. The solid waste that used to be dumped in streets as it has no recyclable value is now seen by collectors as of value to be used as RDF

7. The process in IRRC is semi-automatic, while many other parts of the whole process are not, thus creating jobs.

8. Auto supervision of vehicle observation (vehicles are equipped with on-board GPS, and other facilities).

The integrated community based SWM in Qalyubeya is an initiative that adopted an integrated approach that focused on waste recycling, resource recovery, awareness raising, capacity building with regard to environmentally sound methods of managing waste, providing medical service, and providing income-generating activities, and improving the living conditions of garbage collectors. The solid waste of east Cairo is collected and handled by Khosoos along with its own solid waste. The city was divided into 6 sectors. The initiative started by formalizing 3 companies and an NGO in the city. Now it has been re-divided into 11 sectors, among which 9 are contracted and 2 are serviced by the city cleaning department.

Lessons Learned 

The lessons learned from the experience of the initiative are (a) taking into account the historical background of private Zabbaleen practices and privatization trend of waste collection; (b) the evaluation of complete privatization trend; and (c) the need for using PPP contracts with the original Zabbaleen after training and offering them administrative and technical help.

The lessons learned from the initiative include some advantages along with some disadvantages, or critical issues that need to be addressed for future development and transfer of the project to other cities. 

1. Advantages   

  • The introduction of new use of solid waste, i.e. RDF, to solid waste collectors, which creates a market for it – now many collectors get contracted from Lafarge to get RDF.

  • Integrating streets cleaning with recycling and better quality of life of residence: reducing the waste in streets and reducing the waste going to landfill and thus increasing the time of landfill

  • Formalization of informal practices of solid waste collectors

  • Creating new jobs in solid waste in Khosoos city

  • Introducing new monitoring methods to local government staff  

2. Disadvantages

  • The financial burden on local administration of paying the solid waste contractors for collection and of financing the operation and maintenance of the transfer station and cars as well as the management of the landfill without any source of internal finance or cost recovery. The local government of Khosoos is paying contractors in 9 sectors to collect solid waste. There is no study conducted on sustainability of funds available for that or whether there is need to collect extra charges from residents, business, and even solid waste collectors in the area.

  • This study tour leaves an impression that the sustainability of the IRRC facility working at full capacity is at risk. The IRRC facility has reduced the number of working hours and days and even uses one line of separation some days.  

  • The initiative did not try to build local capacity at the IRRC facility or use local human resources. Also, the expertise, particularly in technical changes in sorting lines, was developed by Econ, and the changes was neither clear to Geocyle nor to PDP/GIZ.

  • Complaints and dissatisfaction of drivers with new added GPS equipment, which made all routs they take and timing monitored. Some even tried to sabotage the equipment. Thus, there might need some work to raise their awareness. 

  • No studies on the effect of recycled material used for RDF on market before and after the project. Has the knowledge about it affected the material going to landfill? 

  • What about the money needed to upgrade the IRRC facility or add lines and maintain the vehicle fleet from the transfer station to IRRC facility and landfill or? And for landfill, is extra investments required? 

  • No incentive for the citizens, solid waste collectors, or any entities – the producer and discharger of solid waste in the street – to adopt the 3Rs strategy toward solid waste, that is, reduce, reuse, and recycle.  


Building cooperation and coordination between government departments and entities responsible for solid waste collection, transportation, sorting, and disposal is a must from the start. 

Although there were primary and preparatory schools in the area, the initiative targeted preparatory school students, especially girls. The reason is that they, with an older age, have a deeper understanding and help spread the awareness at home. And girls are more effective in this regard. Teachers also received capacity-building training of recycling and what to do with the material, especially paper. Drawn on school outer fence colored by students, 3 recycle bins set in school and is still working.

The Qalyubeya Integrated Solid Waste Initiative has been designed in specific method tailored to Khosoos SWM community and its proximity to landfill in Khanka, but it can be easily tailored to other setting in Egypt and other countries that rely on manual solid waste collection and recycling as well as informal collectors. While acknowledging the local context of Khosoos city is different from other cities, the concepts and strategies, in particular of integration and participation, are universal. The project was started by an active governor Mr. Mohamed Abdel Zaher and was later affected by change of governors. The successors were not so interested, and the initiative lost political backing. therefore, building the political support is the most important.