“Bandaids don’t fix bullet holes,” Taylor Swift sings in her song “Bad Blood,” and it’s a tune I often sing to myself as I pass one of the monumental heaps of garbage overtaking a street in my neighborhood. Sometimes the trash heaps are covered in tarp, as if it's going camping. "We're going to be here a while," the tarp announces.

Ever since the first day of the trash crisis, Sukleen workers have been diligently dusting the piles with a deathly white powder that is meant to keep rats away and reduce odor. This, to an extent, seems to work: the smell is bad, but not what you might expect, given the fact it's a pile of rotting garbage in the hottest days of summer. But who knows what the health impact is on inhaling this stuff.



After Saturday's protest downtown, the government announced over the weekend that Sukleen would resume trash collection. A new dumping ground had been found. This turned out to be, of course, yet more garbage.

It turns out the people living there don’t want the trash, either. Fearful their neighborhood would suffer the same fate as Naameh, which is now nearly eight times past capacity, the residents burned tires to shut off the highway. They stood down after clashes with police. One imagines the country going up in flames of garbage and tires, with Sukleen trucks roaming around in search of a dumping ground. For all our fears of ISIS, civil war, and bomb attacks, garbage is our undoing. We have met the enemy... and he is us.

At the heart of the matter is Sukleen, the company who has been in charge of collecting Lebanon's trash since 1994. Their contract is set to expire soon, and the issue of whether to renew has become insanely politicized. Al-Akhbar reported that PSP leader Walid Jumblatt has been in talks to reopen Naameh landfill in exchange for a 50% stake in Sukleen, though Sukleen denies this. Said Hassan Nasrallah called the crisis a "massive failure" of the government; another Hezbollah official said the party has the solution. (It's a secret, but they have it.) On the other hand, Sami Gemayel of Kataeb accused Sukleen and the government of massive corruption, and urged Beirutis to revolt. "There is a mafia running Lebanon," he said in a press conference, which sounded a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. But hayda Libnan, amiright?

But enough about politics. There's garbage everywhere. Lebanon is a small country with a finite amount of landfill space. And residents of this country are producing garbage at an ever-increasing rate. We drink all our water from plastic bottles, we throw our toilet paper in the garbage, and every delivery place gives you about seven bags worth of plastic cutlery when you order out.

But we've been through this before -- with the same overloaded landfill, and the same Sukleen. Naameh was originally opened in 1997 -- it was designed to hold 2 million tons of trash. Last year, residents protested when it was holding 10 million. A year and a half later, the landfill has received over 15 million tons of garbage. Residents have had enough.

While the rest of us wait to find out the fate of the trash in the city, the ugly truth is that no matter how many times we go through this cycle, we’re screwed, unless we take drastic measures to reduce the waste we produce. And we’re not talking screwed years from now screwed. Garbage crises are becoming more and more frequent. Who's to say when the crisis will become the status quo?

Given the scale of the problem, Sukleen, assuming its contract is renewed, must start collecting recyclable materials at every single dumpster in the city. These pathetic little just-for-show pods that Sukleen has around the city are not going to cut it.

I know this sounds like a tall order, but listen, Sukleen, you can make money off of this. Even more than the undisclosed millions you already make collecting the country's trash. Apparently there's money to be made in melting down PET in bottles and exporting it to China, so much money to be made that mafias have arisen in Tehran to scavenge bottles out of people's garbage.



As for us, we have got to start composting. This won't be easy -- we'll need to make room for compost heaps in a city that's famous for its lack of public space. But at this point our choices are this: either find a way to start composting and thereby drastically reduce our waste, or live in a country that's become a literal dump. And that life is no life at all.

We may find cold comfort in knowing that Lebanon’s history of garbage problems dates back to Phoenician times. Back then, trash heaps of Tyre and Sidon, filled with castoffs from the murex shells used to make Phoenician purple, created such a stink no one wanted to live anywhere near it. However, the trash of today is much more dangerous. Residents living near Naameh Landfill have already reported serious health problems including high rates of cancer.

There’s a scene in the movie Sex Lies and Videotape I often think of: one of the characters (I forget her name but she's played by Andie MacDowell) is talking to her therapist about a recurring nightmare she has: a ship is traveling around the world, with everyone’s garbage, traveling from port to port, with no one willing to accept the garbage. What’s so unsettling about the scene is that we all know that it’s a nightmare – the catastrophe just right around the corner if we don’t act right now.

In Lebanon, we’re living the catastrophe. For as long as the garbage remains here, let it serve as a monument to the reality of life if we don’t act.


[Images via here and here]

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