Lebanon’s biggest landfill closed last week – but government officials have so far failed to find a new dumpsite.

Ash Gallagher | 30 Jul 2015 09:00 GMT | Environment, Politics, Lebanon, Middle East

Beirut, Lebanon – Tucked away behind a gas station, along the vibrant, nightlife-friendly streets of Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighbourhood, lies a restaurant made from recycled shipping containers called the Junkyard.

The 12 containers frame the entire restaurant, which uses old car parts for décor, old gas canisters and empty jars for lighting and dinnerware, as well as paper and napkins from other restaurants and pubs that have closed down.

“We even recycle our cooking oil,” explained Dana Alaywan, Junkyard’s marketing and communications manager. A local recycling company takes the oil and turns it into fuel.

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The menu, which is printed on recycled paper, lists bar foods ranging from salmon and smoked duck to grilled prawns and European-style fish and chips.

The restaurant began as a small outdoor dinner and live music venue during the summer of 2012, but closed down when winter rains came. When it reopened last August, the eco-friendly vision remained, and the restaurant works hard to throw out as little as possible.

It is currently exploring ways to donate excess food to Syrian refugees through food banks, but is facing logistical and food safety challenges which include getting companies to come on time to pick up their waste, a challenge deeply rooted in Lebanon’s trash crisis.

Outside the Junkyard’s doors, piles of trash have accumulated on the streets of Beirut, overflowing the dumpsters and creating an unbearable stench throughout the city.

Lebanon’s crisis in the past week created tensions between citizens and waste companies, who refused to pick up the garbage after the Naameh-Ayn Drafeel Landfill, located south of Beirut, was closed on July 17 by protesters.

Lebanon’s Minister of Environment Mohammad Machnouk, announced on Saturday that trash pick up would resume after rallies began in downtown Beirut on Saturday. But trash has remained on the streets.

Some garbage trucks attempted to take waste south near a village called Jiyeh, Lebanon, on Saturday but were met with more protesters blocking roads for nearly two days, resulting in clashes with police.

On Monday night, reports emerged that garbage trucks were dumping waste in the Beirut River. Some protests continued Tuesday as citizens were seen throwing eggs at government buildings.

According to Ahmad Houri, assistant professor of environmental sciences at Lebanese American University, “The problem right now is trying to invent new dumpsites. What people say is, ‘We don’t want their garbage, put it in [someone else’s] village.’ They’re focused on their own concerns. You can’t blame them for not wanting other people’s trash.”

Houri does not believe there are enough social efforts in the city to initiate a complete change for how Lebanese deal with trash and recycling.

“The shift does not happen without government involvement,” he added.

Economically, Houri said, people need to be affected personally before they begin to change the behaviour environmentally. “If people have to pay for trash, or are penalised [for throwing out certain kinds of trash] then they’re more likely to begin recycling.”

Government officials have set deadlines for closing Naameh’s landfill since January 2014, but have missed these because they’ve failed to find alternative locations or energy-renewal solutions.

Al Jazeera went to Naameh-Ayn Drafeel Landfill Thursday and spoke to protesters who live near the 300,000-square-metre landfill, where trash is dumped and then covered with dirt.

Protester Walid al-Ayash, 35, stated that hundreds of families have left their homes in his village of Baawerta, just a few kilometres from the landfill, because the methane gases diffused in the air have created serious health problems for the community.

“Eight months ago, I left my village, I left my people because of this landfill; we can’t live here,” Ayash told Al Jazeera. “We get infections, throat infections and ear infections. Our kids are more vulnerable, from the methane gases.”

Trees and plant life are stunted on the land surrounding the landfill, and farming is no longer possible. According to Ayash, residents of the area “travel 50 kilometres to reach the nearest supermarket”.

However, the protesters have not offered solutions to rid the area of methane gases once the landfill is closed.

“What’s important for us now is to close this landfill and keep our families safe. And the government has to find the solution, not us,” protester Lilian Hamze, 26, told Al Jazeera.

Hamze added that her group was working with local municipalities to try to find other locations for trash sites, but believes that it is ultimately up to the officials.

But Pierre el-Khoury, the general director of the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation, told Al Jazeera that his organisation is working with the Ministry of Environment to help create solutions.

“What we are proposing is using energy through a power plant that would give off six to seven megawatts of electricity from the methane gases’ energy supply,” he said.

Khoury confirmed that energy solutions are being discussed among government officials, but until plans are actually implemented, LCEC’s direct role will be minimal and only include scientific consultation on the energy transformation of methane.

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Meanwhile, protesters in Beirut continue to rally in small numbers in front of the parliament building, demanding a cleanup of the city’s garbage. Some on social media are calling for new recycling initiatives.

The Junkyard is trying to do its part to promote recycling and creativity not only among its staff, who have been involved in the restaurant’s design, but also among customers frequently asking about its décor.

After days of meeting over the trash crisis, government officials have yet to announce specific locations for dumping sites. However, some trucks have been seen resuming trash pick-ups.

The Ministry of Environment has not returned calls from Al Jazeera to confirm what new dumping locations are being discussed.