3 weeks touring around in Lebanon and one thing I can tell is that there is garbage everywhere. Coming from the west I thought Lebanon was one of the most advanced places in the arab world but the truth is that the reality does not match what the lebanese ministry of tourism is promoting abroad. There is a dramatic lack of infrastructure for everything but also for tourism and this is something important when the country wants to prortay itself as the jewel of the middle-east. Tourism is an industry whose capital is the environment and culture of a region. The culture of the peoples living in Lebanon is millenarian yet the environment is so degraded that for me it is enough reason to go spend the holidays somewhere else.
From the seaside to the mountains, from the valleys to the caves and from the cities to the villages everywhere there is waste sidelining the roads, the paths, the rivers and the buildings. Lebanon has no waste management system whatsoever and everything –be it glass bottles, metals, paper, etc…- ends up indiscriminately dumped anywhere.
In Tripoli, north of the country, if you visit the only Islands of the country –which happened to be protected by Unesco because of rare birds and turtles- you will find they have been turned into waste dumps. Families go there to spend the day and all they bring ends up dumped there. Even the former fishermen now employed bringing people to the Islands –no fish anymore- don’t mind throwing their trash into the water. The submarine wildlife is still remarkable and foreign to the inhumane behaviour on the islands but it is a matter of time before the fish and shells will be affected.
In Saida –the famous and ancient Sidon- they have been piling the rubbish next to the sea since decades until it reached a 4 story high. Two years ago it collapsed and half of the dump ended up in the water, only hundreds of meters away from the most famous tourist sites of the city and where the fisherman do their work.
Some years before, Hezbollah burnt down the only incinerator in the country because of the health impacts that this dirty technology was having on the neighbouring communities.
Neither dumps nor incinerators will do the work in a country without law and without government but which wants to be modern. Beirut appeared to me as the perfect example of bad copy of western society: high consumist and individualist attitude, the culture of showing off instead of investing in the being, liberalism for some whilst the people with dark skin can’t step into the beaches or swiming pools… but at the same time unsustainaibilty to the extreme; brand new SUVs and luxury cars blocking the roads and polluting the air, garbage everywhere, exhausted fish reserves, high energy and food dependency from outside when the country could be self-sufficient…
It is difficult to organise a country that is unstable by nature and in a constant state of semi-war. Yet this speaks in favour of a decentralised waste management system in which every village and community should manage its own rubbish. With a couple of tweaks the whole country could offer a completely different face to the world.
First; most of the waste in Lebanon (60%) is organic which means it could be used for compost to replenish the exhausted soils of the Bekaa Valley. This doesn’t need big infrastructure or investment and could easily be organised with a door-to-door separate collection system with assistance from other good practices.
Secondly the remaining waste is plastic, paper, glass and cans from beverages and plastic bags. The glass, metals and plastic could easily be recovered by re-introducing a deposit system (Lebanon had a well-functioning deposit system that is slowly dying in favour of the throw-away society) or just by paying an amount per kg for separately collected pile of paper, PET plastic, glass and metal. This would boost the recycling industry in the country, it would provide jobs to a part of the young and hopeless generation which now wanders around and it would clean the country so that tourists can enjoy visiting one of the craddles of civilisation.
There are lots of other measures that would be necessary and sooner or later someone will have to teach the young lebanese not to dump waste in the street but to these measures could be a good start.
At the moment Lebanon doesn’t have any waste law and the ministry of environment is trying to push forward a law with the help from NGOs. They will need all the help to clean up the country (“cleaning” in the widest sense).