Invisible garbage, visible activism

Invisible garbage, visible activism

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One wealthy mountain suburb seems to have developed a unique technology to fight Lebanon’s garbage crisis. Or is it your 3rd grade Halloween costume? Maybe they were waiting for a magician.

Indeed, in other areas, once-festering roadside piles have magically disappeared overnight:

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Meanwhile some municipalities claim they are recycling but residents say they are just making use of nearby valleys:

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Many have documented the piles being burned at night, sending suffocating fumes into the skies: “My lungs are suffering,” a young person living nearby one dump told me.

Another tragic example is the picturesque mountain town of Beit Mery, as seen in this widely shared Facebook post:

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Khalil El Khoury

It remains unclear if this huge amount of waste here is generated solely by the Beit Mery municipality or if other towns and neighborhoods in Beirut are contributing. Could such dumping be happening without the municipality’s consent? And why would they allow it?

As I told CNN in an interview last week, the only silver lining to this crisis seems to be the renewed and energized national conversation about recycling and waste management–following years of neglect–and the creation of a new breed of activism around it. The group “Tol3at Ri7itkom” ( You Stink) has been holding meetings and organizing protests, as documented by blogger Hassan Chamoun, who has been extensively covering their work:

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Hassan Chamoun

(For some great videos of the protests, check his page, “Thoughts of a Young Arab Adult“)

With over 22,000 likes in the space of a couple of weeks, the “You Stink” campaign’s popular Facebook page allows citizens to post videos documenting illegal dumping across the country:

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They have even launched a few stunts, such as dumping garbage bags at ministers’ front doorsteps:

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They have used a crowd-funding campaign and even put their protest budget online, unlike most of Lebanon’s non-transparent government institutions.

Others are getting their hands dirty and literally picking up the mess, as we have seen with the continued work of recycling entrepreneur Ziad Abi Chaker. His team managed to process nearly 300 cubic meters in one day by bringing recycling machines to a major pile in the town of Zouk:

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As always, many others in Lebanon have become depressed, languishing in cynicism or despair, which have become the trademark coping mechanisms for dealing with crisis after crisis in this country. Indeed, it takes a lot of strength and dedication to stay motivated and get things done in Lebanon, but it can also be rewarding. I think Ziad said it best when he wrote:

“In times of crisis, the number one killer is inertia…No matter how big the task, have the courage to take the first step and the discipline to keep at it one step after the other. Once you have taken your tenth step you will realize this is not as daunting as you imagined and it’s rather pleasant to be surmounting the obstacles.”

 

 

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