It is no secret that Lebanon has undergone a medley of changes in the past years. It has undergone political assassinations, changes in government, and is subject to chronic regional instability. Now that there is a new government, some regard our future with optimism, others with pessimism and fear. However, one subject of extreme importance has only changed for the worse…the environment. In examining the critical situation of the environment in Lebanon, there are six key issues that should be examined. They are: individual littering and waste of resources, urban congestion, poor waste treatment on a national level, deforestation,  use of fossil fuel energy (as opposed to more eco-friendly sources), and lastly, air pollution. These are problems that exist both at the level of the individual and that of the government.

 The first problem (and one of the most prevalent) is that of individual littering and the waste of resources. All over Lebanon, we see trash on the streets, in empty parking lots, on the beach, even in green places, and leave it to “others” to pick it up. Ironically enough, this is by far and away the easiest problem to solve.  Lebanon has adequate amounts of garbage cans; simply wait until you find one and then dispose of your garbage in the bin. Why throw it on the street? 

Aside from the lack of personal initiative, one of the problems with this is that there is no enforceability of environmental laws in Lebanon. In the United States and places in the European Union, people who are caught littering can be fined. Indeed, in the state of Nebraska, a repeat offender can be fined for over $1,000 and jailed for up to 90 days.  While this might seem extreme, it is time that we have enforceable laws that ensure that citizens do not pollute their nation.

As for personal waste, these are environmental tips that are so simple and will save people money. Little things like shutting off your water while brushing your teeth, not taking extra-long showers, turning off the light when you leave the room, printing on both sides of the page,  or removing battery-run devices once they are done charging (as opposed to leaving them connected the charger) will save you both money and resources. Avoiding excess packaging, or buying things you can re-use (such as using a mug at work as opposed to plastic cups for water) also help. These seem trivial, but they do add up.

As for the second topic…urban congestion, this is a problem where fault lies with both nationals and the government. All over the country, buildings are constructed carelessly, causing deforestation and environmental damage. Interestingly, many of these buildings remain empty upon completion.  This problem has multiple dimensions, but must first be dealt with by having the government restrict the amount of construction licenses that are issued and placing a cap on the price of real estate for existing buildings. At the level of the government, all over the world there are zoning areas that allow a certain amount of buildings (and a certain type of building…you cannot have a nightclub in a residential area, for example) per area. We should implement this to avoid over-congestion. At the level of the individual, it would be both environmentally friendly and less expensive to use existing buildings (or repair older ones) rather than build from scratch. We need urban planning.

In conjunction with this, there is the problem of deforestation. At this point, our forests, once 35% of the country, are now 13%. We used to be called “Lebanon the Green.” Do we still  deserve this title? Aside from removing trees for construction purposes and rock quarries, trees are used to create paper products and furniture. While inevitably we need paper products, there are ways to have ecologically managed forests (when a tree is cut down, planting another in its place, as well as alternating where forests are used for such purposes are just two of many methods) to do this efficiently. We can also buy brands that are ecologically friendly; for example, Kimberly Clark (aka Huggies, Kotex, and Kleenex) use ecologically managed forests for their paper products. In addition, with the use of technology, there is less of a need to print out documents and the like. We should use these tools to our advantage.

Perhaps one of our most critical problems is our poor waste management. At the level of the individual, we waste by not reducing the amount of waste we produce and not re-using what we can. At the governmental level, our waste management entails having sewers that flood the Mediterranean sea, landfills, and garbage incineration. 90% of our waste goes into the sea, and 57% of it goes in untreated.

There are far better ways of dealing with environmental waste. The first is recycling paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum.  While there are Sukleen cans available on the street, many people do not even know what they are for, as there has yet to be a strong public awareness campaign about the issue. This can be initiated by starting a public plan for awareness about recycling on several media levels. Recycling bins could be made mandatory in all public offices and schools, and could move into private schools.  The second way to deal with waste management is to create compost. For food products that go to waste, these can be turned into fertilizer. In turn, these could be treated as subsidies to farms. This is inexpensive, efficient, and good for the environment and those who work with agriculture. 

Lastly, there are the problems of the use of fossil fuels (oil and natural gas) and air pollution. These two go hand in hand. At the level of the individual, there is the use of public transportation. This is both pertinent to the use of fossil fuels and air pollution. While we have public transportation in Lebanon, many refuse to use it based on the idea that if one has their own car, there is no need for it. All over the world, public transportation is widely available and used. In the United States, there are discounts for students or for those who use public transportation regularly. Although public transportation is inexpensive here, people still prefer to pay increasing amounts for gas and fuel.  There is nothing shameful about using public transport. In addition, we could also use methods such as car-pooling, which is not only environmentally friendly, but a good way to ride with your friends. This reduces the amount of air pollution and our dependence on fossil fuels.  

As a country, Lebanon uses fossil fuels which cannot be renewed and pollutes the air with fumes. Instead, there are ways to use clean (and renewable) energy. The three most widely used are solar energy, windmill energy, and hydro-electric power dams. The first two are the most feasible in Lebanon. Lebanon only has 4% of its energy coming from renewable sources, although it pledged to have 20% of its energy come from environmentally friendly sources by 2020. The Ruwayha Eco-Village is working to increase awareness about methods of renewable energy in Lebanon and to stop dependence on fossil fuels. This is important for us economically and ecologically. At the level of the individual, installing solar power panels on our buildings pays for itself in a few years, and in the end, one saves both money and energy by using them. At the level of the government, there needs to be more awareness about this issue, and this could be started by installing such panels on all public buildings.   

Our environment has been neglected and abused long enough. Environmental matters are typically left to NGOs, while the vast public and the government do not participate much in this endeavor. Indeed, even Sukleen, our principal source of waste management, is a private company! While environmental progress is a slow process, it is time to start taking the initiative to take of it, and by doing that, ourselves.