The Lebanese Ministry of Environment launched a campaign on Sunday bearing the slogan “Clean up Your Country.”

Municipalities, dozens of nongovernmental organizations and volunteers took part in the campaign that started from the Beirut waterfront.

Environment Minister Nasser Yassin said: “It’s a message to prohibit throwing waste randomly.

“It is also a way to affirm that the role of municipalities is crucial in cleaning up their cities, towns and forests, and to support them, in order to spread environmental awareness.”

Dozens of young men, women and children gathered at the Beirut waterfront at 8 a.m., carrying bags and picking up the remains of glass bottles, papers, plastic bottles and tin cans, with their hands covered in protective gloves.

They also collected what had been left by passersby who had spent the night on the promenade, as well as trash thrown by people from their cars into the street and the sea.

Yassin added: “Environmental awareness has decreased due to the ongoing chaos and the absence of deterrent measures.

“Those who disregard the cleanliness of the recreational places they go to should be ashamed of themselves when they see young women and kids picking up their trash.”

Yassin, who was encouraging the volunteers, said: “The goal of launching this campaign, which will last for 100 days, is to ask people to clean up their country.

“This is a symbolic day and it’s a message to support municipalities, and an awareness message to the citizens.”

Lebanon is dealing with a waste crisis that has worsened during the country’s economic collapse.

The state did not put in place any clear, long-term strategies to address the issue, and has only resorted to temporary solutions.

The streets of Lebanese cities turn into dumpsters occasionally, with protests by employees of waste companies demanding improvements to their low salaries impacting on collections.

Sites where trash is collected for treatment and landfilling have turned into garbage mountains, causing environmental and health concerns.

The problem worsens with the higher summer temperatures, as garbage starts to gradually decompose.

According to the World of Statistics — a global network that includes nearly 2,360 organizations worldwide — Lebanon was recently ranked among the 10 most polluted countries in the world.

Successive governments have not found a sustainable solution for the waste problem and only resort to temporary measures.

According to a study conducted by Human Rights Watch: “Residents of areas where waste is dumped, landfilled or burned in the open air suffer from health problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coughing, throat infections, skin conditions, and asthma.”

The study also showed that “there is a link between air pollution from open-air waste burning and heart disease, emphysema and people’s potential exposure to carcinogenic compounds.”

All governmental and civil attempts to make people sort their garbage at home have failed as the concept is still not common in Lebanon.

Moreover, a lot of people rummage through trash bins scattered on the streets in search of recyclable items that can be sold at junk shops.

Yassin said: “There isn’t any waste crisis now resulting from the interruption of waste collection and street sweeping and cleaning.

“However, the work frequency is lower, and contractors are collecting waste once instead of twice per day, due to problems in financing this sector.

“The decline in resources and the difficulty of securing revenue by municipalities (is) in the light of the monetary collapse and the economic crisis affecting municipalities and the central administration.

“We need amendments to the laws to enable municipalities to collect direct fees on waste produced from homes, restaurants and factories, as well as investment and development of all waste-related installations, sorting plants and landfills, within the framework of cooperation between municipalities.”

Household waste is collected without being sorted and is sent to landfills instead of being sorted, recycled or composted.

According to a report compiled by the Waste Management Coalition in 2020: “Lebanon spends $154.5 to manage 1 ton of solid waste, while Algeria, Jordan and Syria spend $7.22, $22.8 and $21.55 respectively.”

According to a report prepared by HRW and the WMC, researchers at the American University of Beirut said that “only about 10 to 12 percent of Lebanon’s waste cannot be composted or recycled.”

The report added: “Improved practices in waste management, such as recycling and composting, can generate $74 million annually. However, 85 percent of solid waste ends up in landfills and open-air dumpsters.” (Arab News)