Waste on beach - Alex Axelrod
Waste on a Netanya beach which is coming from a huge unregulated dump near Sidon, Lebanon. Photo by Alex Axelrod
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Dr. Alex Axelrod of Netanya became intimately acquainted with all the businesses in the Lebanese city of Sidon this week. As he strolled along the beach near his home one morning, he was surprised to discover large quantities of paper and plastic garbage bearing the addresses of factories, stores and bakeries in Sidon.

He wasn't alone: Over the last few days, trash from Lebanon has inundated Israel's beaches from Netanya in the north to Nitzanim in the south. The waste apparently comes from a huge unregulated dump near Sidon that has begun sliding into the sea.

Axelrod said his local beach was pristine until the trash from Sidon started arriving a few days ago. "Out at sea, you can see an armada of plastic bags sailing toward the beach," he said.

Israeli officials have known about the problem of the Sidon dump for years. The dump, essentially a huge mountain of garbage, handles trash from Sidon and all the nearby towns, including medical waste and other forms of poisonous waste.

But it contains no infrastructure to keep the pollution from spreading. Just a few days ago, inspectors from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority found barrels that originally contained hazardous material on a beach south of Netanya.

It is not known for certain why the flow from Sidon grew so suddenly over the last few days, but the most likely theory is that part of the trash mountain collapsed and slid into the sea. Another possibility is that some of the garbage was deliberately dumped into the sea because the dump was full.

According to the Lebanese media, Saudi Arabia has agreed to fund the establishment of a proper landfill and the transfer of the waste from Sidon to the new site. But the plan remains on paper only.

The Environmental Protection Ministry confirmed that large quantities of trash have arrived from Lebanon in recent days, but noted that Israel cannot complain directly to Lebanon because the two countries have no diplomatic ties.

Its only recourse is to complain to the UN agency responsible for the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution.