BEIRUT: Lebanon is far from seeing an end to its waste crisis, but one local grass-roots movement has picked up steam in recent months, bringing together concerned individuals to advocate the zero-waste lifestyle. While #BalaPlastic had been working to transition nightlife venue The Grand Factory, the movement made its large-scale debut in August when NGO Recycle Lebanon organized a beach cleanup at Raouche in collaboration with Mercy Corps and Greenpeace. The hashtag, translating to “without plastic,” was used to advertise the event drawing hundreds of volunteers as well as celebrity endorsements from actress Nadine Labaki and rock band Mashrou’ Leila.
Recycle Lebanon founder Joslin Kehdy described #BalaPlastic as an “open movement” initiated to tackle consumption, production and legislation of environmental pollutants in Lebanon.
“We started with zero-waste cleanups to raise awareness on the ‘7 Rs:’ rethink, redesign, refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, regenerate,” she said.
Since its first event at Raouche, #BalaPlastic has worked toward targeting supermarkets, hospitality establishments, schools, institutions and communities to recycle and reduce waste.
Using the hashtag, the movement invites all social media users in Lebanon to join in by tagging eco-friendly establishments to promote them. Simultaneously, users can use the hashtag to bring attention to places that could create less waste.
The movement’s Facebook page has provided a vibrant platform connecting the country’s environmentally conscious. Members – most of them residents of Lebanon – exchange tailored tips and advice to leading a zero-waste life in a country still new to the concept.
“Unfortunately, I don’t meet a lot of people that share my passion toward our environment,” Rana Azzam, a member of the #BalaPlastic group told The Daily Star.
“But with social media, people are learning more about the impact of our everyday actions and starting to realize that change is needed to maintain our healthy living.”
While Azzam is a translator by trade, she’s an environmentalist at heart. In attempt to engage her friends and family, she has started her own Facebook page dedicated to modeling a zero-waste lifestyle.
Salua Moussawei, another member of the #BalaPlastic group and volunteer with Recycle Lebanon, agreed that having a country-specific group was more constructive.
Specifically, she underscored that establishments were more likely to make a change if called out for gratuitous waste in a community directly familiar with them.
Furthermore, in Lebanon, where the “green” concept has yet to take off, members of #BalaPlastic are able to share without each other the rare businesses that offer eco-friendly alternatives for toiletries, household supplies and food options.
“Since I started posting about environment, many of my friends changed and started asking me more about environmental issues. Before it was something they didn’t even think about,” Azzam said.
“I’m hoping to share some knowledge and do my part of spreading awareness.”
Julien Jreissati, a campaigner at Greenpeace, said all members and volunteers of the Lebanon branch are active in the #BalaPlastic movement.
“We’re encouraging individuals to reach out to their favorite bar or their favorite restaurant to ask them and pressure them to stop or at least reduce the use of single-use plastic,” Jreissati said.
“Some of our volunteers have taken initiative in approaching leading establishments to show them the negative impact of single-use plastic.”
In recent weeks, several businesses including the Wisors Hospitality Group and Roadster Diner have taken steps to be more eco-conscious following a push from activists of the #BalaPlastic movement.
“We see it as an individual approach, how we, as individuals, can contribute to a Lebanon which produces and consumes less single use-plastic as a first step. Small efforts can really make large changes,” Jreissati said.
Elie Nehme, co-founder of the Wisors Hospitality Group, said that it took some time before they agreed to change their practices.
“We were approached by lots of organizations and discussed how we can use less plastic,” he told The Daily Star.
“The waste we’re creating is huge. It has a huge impact on the environment and we know that we are kind of the main actors in the waste in our country as restaurateurs.”
Wisors Hospitality Group includes three popular hospitality establishments in Beirut: The Happy Prince, Vyvyan’s and Kissproof.
All three have ended the use of plastic straws and now offer free refills on water, eliminating the sale of plastic bottles.
When the change was announced, #BalaPlastic was tagged aligning all three eateries with the movement.
“We have set an objective for our group to do more and are learning how to adapt our operations to facilitate that. Even though it’s a really tiny initiative compared to what we’re faced with, it’s the easiest first step and at least we are starting from somewhere,” Nehme said.
They are not the only ones to make the change. In recent months, Beirut nightlife venues Decks on the Beach and Ales & Tales have made commitments to going #BalaPlastic.
“Our responsibility is to talk about these issues, to inspire others and step by step the pieces will fall into place,” Greenpeace’s Jreissati said.