Lebanon Diaries of a garbage bag
Our garbage may be taken out of sight, but it never disappears. Whether it is recycled, landfilled, burned or tipped into the sea, it endures in one form or another—a witness to past human activity. Even prehistoric times are known to us primarily through such traces: long before our forebears could write, they left waste behind, offering clues as to their diet, habitat and tool-making. To this day, our garbage bag is profoundly revealing, sometimes bursting at the seams with secrets and social commentary. In other words, it tells our story.
Nowhere is garbage more expressive than in Lebanon: a tiny country with an ever-expanding and increasingly dangerous supply of trash. Lebanon’s waste tells the story of a dense, consumerist society that has failed, for decades, to set up a functioning waste management system, as authorities dither from temporary fixes to partial solutions, from emergency schemes to unimplemented masterplans.
The present crisis has deep roots. Even before communal violence swept Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, waste management infrastructure was minimal. Municipalities outside the capital dealt with the problem haphazardly, in dumpsites regularly set ablaze. Beirut mostly resorted to crude incineration in the suburb of Amrousieh, at a plant already deemed unsatisfactory, until it established a sorting and composting center in another suburb, Karantina, in 1972. In 1974 the government passed groundbreaking legislation that prohibited tipping waste on the coastline; stockpiling trash anywhere but in dedicated areas; and releasing effluents into the water table, the rivers and the sea. But the 1975 outbreak of civil war upended efforts to establish order; the garbage bag was left to fend for itself, inaugurating a pattern of ad hoc landfills and endemic spillage that lasts to this day.
Nowhere is garbage more expressive than in Lebanon