Widespread waste cleanup underway as garbage blankets Beirut beach

Sandy beaches just north of Beirut were a heaping wasteland.

— -- Sandy beaches just north of Beirut are a heaping wasteland.

On Tuesday, images of the refuse blanketing the city of Zouk Mosbeh -- about 8 miles north of Beirut -- depict a kind of oceanside landfill, soiling a pristine beach town for tourists.

Over the weekend, a winter storm caused trash to wash on shore, sullying the white sands with mostly plastic garbage as a result of some locals and developers’ careless waste practices.

"We said it was not possible to keep dumping in the water," local environmentalist Paul Abi Rached said of the failure of some Lebanese to wean themselves of the careless dumping habits. "We knew we were going to get here."

Joslin Kehdy, of Recycle Lebanon, an organization that has been spearheading an annual cleanup of Zouq Mosbeh beach since 2015, said too many people have treated the Mediterranean Sea like an ashtray.

"The sea is regurgitating our trash," Kehdy said.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri ordered cleanup crews to Zouq Mosbeh beach and on Tuesday uniformed personnel shoveled the piles into dump trucks. Rough surf, however, continues to send more trash to the vacation spot's shorelines.

Waste management is a particularly sensitive topic in Lebanon.

In 2015, trash was strewn all over different Lebanese cities and towns, causing a rancid odor and leading to unrest in the streets.

A campaign called "You Stink" took aim at the trash piles left in the city.

On Friday the New York City-based Human Rights Watch accused the Lebanese government of violating international human rights by allegedly shirking its duties to mete out pollution caused by burning waste at what they estimated were 150 open-air dumps.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.