Published on Arab Voices

#YouStink: The environmental youth movement in Lebanon

Tunis based writer Christine Petré travelled to Beirut to meet the young people behind the #YouStink campaign. Here is what she found.
Chaabans DesignOn July 17 the Naameh landfill in southern Beirut, which was overflowing with garbage from the Mount Lebanon region and the capital Beirut, closed due to pressure from the local population living around the site. However, without any clear alternative, the trash started to pile up on the streets of Beirut and beyond.
A social media movement, #YouStink was established shortly thereafter. It was motivated by the goal of finding long-term solutions to the waste management issue, while at the same time raising awareness about the environment and the importance of recycling. “We are not asking for a lot,” explained young journalist and one of the movement’s organizers, Joey Ayoub, “simply  not  to live among our trash for the sake of our basic health.”
The waste management problem in Lebanon is not new. One year ago, the residents of areas neighboring the Naameh landfill blocked the road to the site. That particular landfill was opened in 1998 as an emergency site and was scheduled to close in 2001, but continued use had long left it overfilled, posing a health risk to nearby communities - not to mention the  odor they have to live with. The most recent  pledge given to the locals was that the site would be closed in the summer of 2015 but when no action was taken, protesters blocked access to the landfill; closing it once and for all.



“We are a small country, waste management shouldn't be such a difficult problem,” complains Ayoub. The activist argues that there is no lack of will and initiatives. He mentions the ZeroWasteAct, where you pay a monthly fee for a service, which includes collecting your recycled waste. But according to Ayoub there is no recycling mindset in Lebanon. He estimates that the country only recycles about 6% of its waste.
The low level of recycling is one of the reasons the movement is focused on raising awareness of it as part of the solution. “It is not until now that we have begun to recycle,” said Rabie Batchiche who has been working in the restaurant sector in Beirut for many years. To him, recycling is key to the trash issue. According to Batchiche most people don’t do it because they are not used to it or don’t understand its value. But with more awareness and more available recycling containers, Batchiche believes people would begin to recycle.
Beyond the environmental aspect and recycling awareness, there is the health risk. Health Minister Wael Abu Faour warned about the health hazards in the early stages of the crisis, also noting that other landfills have started to reach full capacity. He called for decisive action from the government. But as some of the garbage is now being burned, there is an additional concern with people inhaling toxic fumes. “The garbage was the tipping point, where people felt their health was directly threatened,” explained a 27-year-old protester who has taken part in all the demonstrations but preferred to remain anonymous. He is optimistic about the impact of the movement but argues that the focus should remain on the garbage crisis, where the movement’s objectives are clear.


Hayat Chaaban
“I'm concerned about the dumped
garbage [...] in north Lebanon." 
- Hayat Chaaban

“I'm concerned about the dumped garbage,” said 20-year-old graphic artist Hayat Chaaban, “especially about Aakkar, a beautiful region in north Lebanon.” She added: “They're going to turn it into a dumpster!” Frustrated with the situation, the designer created an image of a black garbage bag in the shape of the country, which quickly went viral and is now used by the movement’s supporters.

Underneath the image is the single word “Shame!” The movement has spawned many similar images, decrying the situation.


But as the protests have grown, violence has erupted – despite the fact that the movement’s organizers have insisted that the group is non-violent. “We will never attack, we will only protect ourselves,” argued Ayoub. Violence will never be part of the movement, he declared.

As public pressure for a solution to the garbage crisis increases, the movement, which was initially organized by young people, has also started gaining traction among older generations, and now has significant momentum. On July 21 the group gathered about 20 people, on August 8 there were 6,000 and on August 23 around 40 000 joined the cause, according to Ayoub. The movement is now a diverse mix of Lebanese citizens calling for a long-term commitment from the government. “Our demands are clear: we want something that is sustainable,” concluded Ayoub, “nobody wants the garbage in their backyard.”


Christine Petré

Editor, "Your Middle East" News Website

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