Quick link: Beirut Has a Trash Problem
What happens when trash takes over a city?
Truck drivers in Djibouti regularly toss empty Coke bottles from windows. School kids unwrap candy and let the wrapper waft to the street without even thinking about it. Plastic bags float like leg-less jellyfish through the air on blustery days and snag on thorny acacia trees.
There is a garbage pick-up service. The orange truck drives through neighborhoods with its cheerful ice-cream truck jingle calling out the guards to bring bags and bins to dump in the back. There are also street cleaners, usually women, wearing bright orange cloaks over their dresses and headscarves over their faces to keep the dust out of their eyes and mouths as they sweep up dust and garbage.
Still there are mounds everywhere, some streets are almost entirely covered with flattened plastic water bottles. Parts of the ocean are nearly plugged up with trash, even protected areas like where sea turtles flock. I thought Djibouti had a trash problem. Then I saw photos coming out of Beirut, Lebanon. Trash problems, it turns out, are relative.
Beginning in 2015, Beirut underwent an apocalyptic trash crisis. Mountains of white garbage bags, as tall as ski slopes, appeared in the city. Literal rivers of trash, on the move from their own weight and momentum, slowly oozed down roads and clogged waterways. Some streets were too full to drive on. Some sidewalks became impassable. The stench was overpowering.
Some people said rain washed toxins from the trash into the water supply. The piles became breeding grounds for rats and disease. Though little attempt was made to clear the trash, the government did sprinkle white powder on it, hoping that would discourage the rats and the disease. The mounds were also dangerous fire hazards. A construction site-cum-garbage dump in the Dbayeh area north of Beirut spontaneously combusted in September 2016.
In picture after picture and article after article, I saw residents of Beirut walk past the piles with their hands over their faces or drive by without glancing at the trash. Had they accepted it? Were they resigned to live in this rubbish hell? What caused this crisis?
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