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Karim Traboulsi

Video: Activists team up with Mashrou' Leila to detox Beirut's plastic binge

Hundreds of activists flocked to Beirut's Dalieh public beach on Saturday for the clean-up [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 August, 2017

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On Saturday, activists led a high-profile clean-up along one of Beirut's last non-privatised beaches, enlisting the help of Lebanese alt-rock band Mashrou Leila.
Amid an ongoing waste-management crisis, the Lebanese government is now directly dumping rubbish into the sea, making it impossible to swim safely anywhere along the coast this year.

Trash, littering Lebanon's beaches and floating freely near its shores, has already trapped endangered sea turtles, killed off fish and - combined with wastewater dumped without treatment - even turned the water green near Beirut.

For many, this was the last - plastic - straw. 

On Saturday, more than 250 activists taking matters into their own hands led a collective clean-up along one of Beirut's last non-privatised beaches, enlisting the help of Lebanese alt-rock band Mashrou' Leila. 

The Day without Plastic event organised by Greenpeace and Recycle Lebanon, a local recycling initiative, took place on Beirut's Dalieh rocky outcrop.

It has been the site of a fierce stand-off between private developers and public space defenders.

"We throw 700 tonnes of plastic a day in Lebanon. Because of catastrophic waste management practices from our government, most of the waste we throw ends up in the sea," Julian Jreissati from Greenpeace Mediterranean told The New Arab.

"We wanted to show the magnitude of the problem to Lebanese citizens but also explain to them that they can be part of the solution."

The plastic collected from the beach will be used to make a modern art installation on the 'invasion of plastic', to be featured on stage in a Mashrou' Leila concert in mid-August in North Lebanon.

Despite the high-profile involvement in the campaign, some activists said the extent of the damage means that state-sponsored endeavours rather than grassroots efforts are needed to tackle the crisis.

"It's not enough. The scale of the waste in the sea is massive," Joey Ayoub, an activist and blogger who was at the event, told The New Arab in reference to the clean-up.

"Just after the activists left, I saw a family come to the area. The father told his daughter, who was carrying a plastic bottle, to throw it on the beach, despite being close to a bin," he added.

"It ended up in the sea. In the end, we need institutional efforts" to change attitudes.

Plastic in the sea and ocean is by no means just a Lebanese problem. According to a Guardian investigation in June, the problem is as serious as climate change, with annual consumption of plastic bottles set to top half a trillion by 2021. This far outstripped recycling efforts and jeopardises oceans, coastlines and other environments.

Lebanon experienced a major waste crisis in mid-2015, with garbage piling up in the streets of Beirut and its surroundings after the closure of the country's main landfill.

This crisis triggered mass protests, with many taking aim at politicians in a country that has suffered endemic corruption since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

However, the protests ended when the government implemented a temporary landfill-based solution.

Environmental groups say landfills are a bad solution, arguing Lebanon can better address the issue through recycling and sorting at source, and accuse politicians of exploiting the crisis for lucrative waste-management profit.

Still, the average Lebanese person can do more than sit and wait for the government to sort out its mess.

"Using alternatives to single use plastic, such as bottles, bags, cutleries, straws, we contribute to the solution. All it takes is small change in our daily behavior that collectively will lead to a big impact," Greenpeace's Jreissati said.

Follow Karim Traboulsi on Twitter: @Kareemios
 

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