APE is a non-government organization. Established in 1984 to improve the lives of garbage collectors, it is run by a 9 member board of trustees, a staff of over 50 and scores of volunteers drawn from various fields of special interest.
Today about 25,000 people live in the Mokattam (having grown from a population of 8,000 in the early 1980s) and almost all of them live off, or are involved in, garbage activities.
It is estimated that more than 40% of Cairo’s garbage is not collected formally. The garbage collectors- the zabbaleen- handle this part of the garbage produced by the 19 million inhabitants of Cairo at no cost to the city authorities.
Specifically this means that the zabbaleen collect about 7,000 tons of garbage every day and up to 90 per cent of that waste is recycled by them directly.
Since no one pays them to collect the garbage, the zabbaleen make their living from recycling what they collect. This is why the garbage industry at the Mokattam is the most efficient recycling industry in the world. At a price.
Most zabbaleen children have not had any access to formal education. Schools, until relatively recently, were not a feature of the garbage settlements and children from an early age work with their parents either sorting waste or helping on the collection routes.
In 1997 it was estimated that of the youngsters aged 12 to 14, 66 per cent of boys and 59 per cent of girls were working.
APE aim to make a real business out of the zabbaleen work by emphasis that recycling is an important industry and that development and environmental preservation are not incompatible.
One of the APE initiatives has been the construction of a centre for workshops producing patchwork and recycled paper products. Starting by collecting rags from the textile mills and factories, the centre today teaches more than 250 young women how to sort, design, cut, sew, weave, iron and recycle these fabrics into patchwork quilts, bedspreads, rugs, bags and other marketable items. See more under APE activities