Schedule & Special Events

Thursday, March 11

Garbage Dreams: How One Community’s Zero Waste Practices Can Be Achieved Globally
5:30pm, Forum, Humphrey Center. Link:

On March 11th, the critically acclaimed film, Garbage Dreams will screen at the Sixth Annual Arab Film Festival. In conjunction, the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and the Institute on the Environment, will host a conversation on Garbage Dreams. Join a discussion on the delicate balance between sustainability and modernization. Mai Iskander, Producer, Director and Cinematographer of Garbage Dreams; Ragui Assaad, Professor, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and former community development director for the Zabbaleen; Tim Smith, Associate Professor, Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering and Director of the NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise, and Susan Hubbard, Chief Executive Officer and Co-President of Eureka Recycling, Minnesota's leading zero waste organization, will explore the social and environmental implications of this relationship.


Until the 1980’s, the city of Cairo and its 13 million residents had no formal municipal garbage collection system. Until then, most of the collection was handled by the Zabbaleen, an impoverished community of mostly Coptic Christians. Through their hand separation at the source and manual recycling programs in their own neighborhoods, the Zabbaleen process and reuse over 80% of the garbage they collect. The Zabbaleen depend on the garbage and the raw material that it produces for survival. Starting the 1980’s city administrators began contracting with European owned companies to replace what they consider to be the Zabbaleen’s dated methods. These foreign companies recycle on average of only 20% of the refuse, land filling the rest. In addition to the environmental implications, the Zaballeen’s already impoverished conditions are being worsened by the competition.

Recently Mai Iskander, an Egyptian-American filmmaker went into Mokattam, the largest garbage city on the outskirts of Cairo and documented the challenges of the Zabbaleen. The film has become an international sensation, winning numerous awards at international film festivals and capturing the attention of former Vice President Al Gore who said of the film “Ultimately, Garbage Dreams makes a compelling case that modernization does not always equal progress.”

This event will discuss the lessons that can be learned from the Zabbaleen and the implications for waste management and recycling efforts globally