This article first appeared on the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.lebanon on 9 Aug 1996
CONSUMER SOCIETY MAY BURY LEBANON IN GARBAGE
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
Recently, Lebanon has been going down the path of the American consumer society. This means excessive consumption of natural resources and throwing them away. Some years ago, one soft-drink company proudly announced a new "no-deposit, no-return" glass beverage bottle; TV advertisements stressed the beauty of being able to throw away the empty bottles rather than have to return them to the store. One rich person replaced his old metal kitchen cabinets and boasted that the old cabinets were now at the Normandy garbage dump. Lebanon has its own versions of McDonald's, complete with disposable hamburger containers and cardboard cups. Needless to say, the war has produced its own huge piles of debris from destroyed buildings, furniture, cars etc.
The metropolitan area where I live, Phoenix, Arizona, has a population of over two million, less than that of Lebanon. Yet, the city produces mountains of garbage. Huge landfills (a kinder American word for "garbage dumps") ring the city and greet people driving in from most directions. Their total area probably exceeds that of Greater Beirut. More are in the works.
Lebanon cannot adopt the wasteful American lifestyle without suffering the consequences. The country is too small and crowded to set much space aside for garbage dumps. Many areas are populated and cannot accommodate garbage. Most of the rest is too beautiful and ecologically sensitive to destroy for the sake of garbage.
Even in America, with its huge spaces, it is becoming more difficult to build new landfills due to opposition from nearby residents. Recycling has been adopted as a way to stretch the life of existing landfills and reduce the demand on natural resources (trees, mines, oil...). Many homes have a recycling barrel in addition to the usual garbage barrel.
On my last trip to Lebanon, I was encouraged to see that a lot of recycling is taking place, especially for carton, plastic bottles (including many of those blue mineral-water bottles), glass, scrap metal, and aluminum. It is disorganized; poor people scavenge the dumpsters and gather the recyclable materials, but at least these people make a living and help save natural resources. Amazingly, the clock has been turned back and returnable beverage bottles are available again; in this sense, Lebanon is superior to the U.S. where only the disposable variety is available. (Reusing the same item is better yet than recycling; less energy is used.)
Lebanon can do better than that. Recycling plants can be built to employ those same people now scavenging in the streets. In addition, excessive waste can be avoided in the first place.
Unfortunately, as part of rebuilding the country's infrastructure, Lebanon has chosen to burn its garbage rather than recycle or compost it. In the U.S., incinerators have proven to be very dangerous and have been opposed by many communities; there is no reason why they should be any better in Lebanon. You can read more about this subject elsewhere on SCL under the title Greenpeace, Waste, and Lebanon! by Rania Masri. (I have not listed my "read" postings recently due to size, but I assume the article is still posted.
It is worth noting that many decades ago, Lebanon, with help from the French, built a composting plant near Beirut, one of the first in the world. Garbage was decomposed into fertilizer and given free to people. There is no reason why we cannot do that now, although synthetic stuff like plastic and metal would have to be removed (and recycled) first.
ENVIRONMENTAL ATROCITY #7-ANY VILLAGE GARBAGE DUMP
Nearly every village in Lebanon has an unsanitary garbage dump nearby. These piles are usually along the side of a road in a scenic valley. The garbage is simply dumped off the truck down into the valley, producing a long cascade of garbage. Often, these dumps are set on fire, producing noxious fumes with some very poisonous chemicals (such PCBs) from burning plastic and other synthetic materials. Trees in the vicinity are often killed by fire or smoke, water is polluted, and a scenic area is degraded.