The government wants half of Israel’s garbage to be recycled by the end of the decade, as landfill sites become increasingly scarce. The success of a recent program might give it hope.
By Zafrir Rinat | Nov.29, 2012

Waste recycling has received the most extensive government funding of all environmental projects in recent years, an investment that is beginning to pay off. After an experimental stage involving a few neighborhoods in the major cities, a project consisting of waste separation by residents and subsequent pick-up for recycling is scheduled for expansion in the coming year.

The Environmental Protection Ministry wants half of Israel’s waste to be recycled by the end of the decade, as compared with less than 20 percent today. Reasons for the expansion of recycling include the shortage of sites available for landfill, and the blight caused by that method of waste disposal. It is predicted that within two years there will be no room for 14 percent of the waste in the existing waste interment sites.

Under the plan, 32 local authorities have been chosen to receive hundreds of millions of shekels to build infrastructures for the separation of waste into a two streams – a dry (mainly plastic and paper) and a wet one (mainly food scraps). In addition, those authorities have received NIS 300 million to construct stations at which the waste will be sorted and sent for recycling. There is also assistance for the construction of facilities where the waste will be recycled or used to produce energy.

The local authorities include large cities such as Ashdod, Be’er Sheva, Kfar Sava and Hadera. Other such cities are in the process of joining the waste-separation project. According to Environmental Protection Ministry figures, almost 100,000 households already separate waste.

Emek Hefer stars, Ashdod rising

The leader in this effort is the Emek Hefer Regional Council, in which 12,000 households have gone over to waste separation. “The vast majority of the local authorities are progressing at the pace to which they committed themselves before we gave them financial support,” says the ministry’s director general, attorney Alona Shefer-Karo.

Ashdod is a clear example of the long way that waste treatment has come in Israel, and the long road that still lies ahead. This is a city of 250,000 residents that, until slightly over a decade ago, sent all its waste to a landfill site – Retamim – that lacked any basic infrastructure to prevent environmental pollution.

During the first stage, Retamim was closed and the waste was sent to a more modern site in the Negev. During the next stage, the municipality began to operate recycling centers to which residents could bring beverage containers, paper and electronic waste. But the recycling rate remained very low and the recycling centers often turned into garbage dumps themselves.

Within the past two years, Ashdod joined the ministry’s waste-separation program. The municipality received NIS 54 million and began to build the waste-separation system, which includes the use of separate garbage cans. Today, about 8,000 households in the city separate waste. In addition, the municipality improved the recycling centers and information available to residents as to where to deposit each type of waste.

Dani Elgart, the head of sanitation, supervision and parking in the Ashdod municipality, said that within a year there will be waste separation in all the city’s neighborhoods. Full implementation of the separation will raise the percentage of recycling to 40 percent. The municipality will continue to operate the existing network of recycling centers, each of which now serves 5,000 residents.

It should be noted that Ashdod and additional cities are operating out of economic necessity when they invest in the waste-separation project. The Environmental Protection Minister managed, by means of legislation, to increase the levy imposed on each ton of waste that reaches the landfill site, and has made the investment in recycling essential for the local authorities. The private sector also has an incentive, namely new laws that require importers and manufacturers to collect and recycle packaging and electronic waste.

Political rubbish?

The weakest link in the ministry’s program is the current shortage of facilities – to sort waste separated by the residents into various streams, recycle it, and produce electricity from it. The existing facilities are incapable of treating all the separated waste. Some are outdated or were built without permits, and lack suitable means of odor-prevention.

Many local authority employees and experts on environmental issues are convinced that the Environmental Protection Ministry wanted to create a quick success story. It imposed a daunting economic and logistical task on the local authorities and the business sector that will be hard to achieve within a short period of time. It has been claimed that the ministry did not carry out a sufficiently thorough preliminary examination of the economic consequences of the waste separation policy and the waste recycling laws.

The ministry, on the other hand, points to a variety of programs in advanced stages for the construction of numerous facilities to sort and recycle waste. Among other things, there will be a number of regional facilities in which the wet waste will undergo a process called “anaerobic digestion,” which creates methane gas that can be used to produce electricity.

In addition, the planning process is underway for two large recycling and energy production facilities in the Dan region, one of them adjacent to the Hiriya recycling park. One of the facilities will be able to absorb 1,000 tons of waste daily. Part of it will be transferred for recycling and part will be used to produce energy.

Ashdod now transfers separated waste to a facility in the Judean Plain region, which converts it to agricultural fertilizer, but it is interested in a local solution. With the help of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the municipality has begun to plan its own station for sorting and treating waste. This station will include a facility to produce electricity using the anaerobic digestion process. The day this facility begins to operate will mark the completion of a process that began with environmentally damaging waste disposal and culminated with the waste becoming an energy-producing resource.