A driver throws a sandwich wrapper from his car window onto the street. A pedestrian casually tosses an empty plastic bottle into the sea during his daily morning walk on the Corniche. A family enjoys a lovely day picnicking on the beach or in the mountain and thinks nothing of leaving their trash behind. These are frustratingly and sadly daily occurrences in Lebanon, and they must stop. Now.
It is often said that the Lebanese have been spoiled by domestic help and tend to think that there is always somebody to clean up after them—hence littering with no afterthought—but this does not explain why the same Lebanese who walk the extra mile to place a piece of garbage in the bin in a foreign country think nothing of tossing it on the street in their own. This issue runs deeper. It seems that Lebanese do not feel a sense of ownership when it comes to public spaces, and while maintaining a sparkling clean home, they are apathetic toward littering on the street, beach, or mountain—public spaces to be enjoyed by all residents of Lebanon.
It is not a stretch to say that the vast majority know that littering is bad, but many do it anyway. There is a clear disrespect for public spaces in Lebanon. One factor could be the lack of civic education among many Lebanese. Civic education was only included in the Lebanese curriculum in the early 2000s and, therefore, the generations before that year were not taught to respect Lebanon, or their collective rights and responsibilities as Lebanese to maintain a clean and healthy environment. The generation educated from the year 2000 onwards have learned about the importance of collective responsibility, so hopefully they can share these ideals with their parents, teaching them not to litter rather than learning from them how to ruin Lebanon’s natural environment.
But until a real social contract is adopted, the environment in Lebanon will continue to suffer immeasurably. Our shores are drowning in waste while a significant portion of our seawater is heavily polluted. All of the beach operators—whether of public beaches or private resorts and clubs—who spoke with Executive said that the biggest challenge they face is littering, despite regularly cleaning the shore, sometimes multiple times per day. There are many factors that contribute to this waste onslaught—including the ongoing garbage crisis—and the eradication of littering will not be a panacea to all of our environmental problems. But we have to start somewhere, and the best place to start is with ourselves. It is arguably easier to get someone to walk a few extra steps to dump a piece of garbage in a bin instead of throwing it on the street than it is to get those in authority to solve the country’s waste management problems.
This does not mean the government should not intervene to force citizens to reduce littering. Civic education is the first step toward doing so, as it is only through the proper education of our youth that we can implement future change. For those who are beyond the age of civic education, a national awareness campaign against littering is needed to encourage people to treat public spaces like their homes and stop their rampant littering. Both of these steps, however, may be not enough of a deterrent against littering for some people and this is why some punitive measures should be introduced. It was only when driving without a seatbelt in Lebanon became a fineable offense that people began to strap in. Personal consequences for actions are the only thing that works for a wide number of people, and, as such, a fine should be imposed on those who are caught littering in public spaces.
Not littering may seem like a small step to take, but indeed, the longest journeys begin with a single step. If we want to save Lebanon’s beaches and make them enjoyable for both tourists and locals alike, then it is time to take that step. Right now. No excuses.