But plastic still clogs landfills due to liberal laws.
By Zafrir Rinat | Jun. 12, 2014

Over 300,000 Israeli households currently separate dry and wet waste, representing a 400 percent increase in two years. This encouraging statistic was presented today at the Tel Hai Academic College, as part of a conference on recycling and waste reduction organized by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and Migal, a Galilee research institute. Many obstacles remain, however, to ensuring that all of the waste in Israel actually ends up in recycling or energy production facilities, and not landfills.

Proactive legislature advanced by the Environmental Protection Ministry in recent years has increased taxes local authorities pay for storing their waste in landfills. Currently, 80 percent of urban waste in Israel is sent to landfills, with the remainder sent to recycling plants. The landfill taxes are transferred to a general sanitation fund, which is used by the Environmental Protection Ministry to pay for recycling infrastructure, and facilities for sorting recyclable waste. The whole process has moved along hastily, though there remain a few dilemmas that must be resolved in order to further decrease the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. The main ones are:

Sorting facilities. Despite the increasing amount of recyclable waste being separated by households, there remains a severe shortage of facilities to absorb and sort that waste, as well as facilities to recycle it. There is also a lack of facilities geared toward converting leftover food waste into fertilizer and converting it to energy. According to a report compiled by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Milken Institute, there are currently only a few facilities in Israel capable of absorbing urban waste. Tamir, an Israeli recycling concern that focuses on food packaging, has cited a specific lack of sorting facilities in the south, and a lack of proper facilities throughout the rest of the country. Tamir is currently in the process of building two modern facilities, in Rishon Letzion and Afula.

The deposit refund on beverage bottles. The Environmental Protection Ministry is considering canceling the refund on beverage bottles, and categorizing them under the packaging law. Retail outlets as well as beverage producers are in favor of the move, claiming that doing so would lift the need to deal with bottles separately from other recyclables, which can be logistically difficult for businesses. Others, however, argue that not only should the refund be maintained, it should be increased. These professionals support this claim by citing the effectiveness that the refund has had on bottle recycling. Voluntary recycling of larger bottles that are not redeemable is less prevalent, and some say they should also be subject to the refund tax.

Limitations of the packaging law. When this law was created, overly modest goals were set for recycling plastic. Only 22 percent of plastic waste must be recycled by law, despite the fact that plastic makes up over 40 percent of total waste, thus occupying a great deal of landfill space. In addition, there are difficulties in implementing this law, as many local authorities have yet to sign an agreement with Tamir, though the law requires them to do so. The Environmental Protection Ministry has yet to take action against local authorities that have not gotten on board, although it has been taking action against packaging producers. Recently, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court rejected an appeal filed by AP Design Group, to avoid paying a fine of 124,000 shekels ($35,800) for failing to sign an agreement with Tamir for taking care of its packaging waste.

Quality of separated recyclables. The success of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s waste separation project depends on educating the public on how to ensure proper separation. Good education will lead to a higher amount of quality waste being sent to recycling facilities, instead of waste being ultimately sent to landfills, deemed unfit for recycling. A study conducted by the Shahaf Environmental planning firm for the Environmental Protection Ministry found that roughly a third of the waste in solid waste containers was comprised of leftover food. Officials at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense point out that further education is required to improve the quality of the separated waste generated by Israeli households.

Commercial waste (markets, offices, stores, restaurants and hotels). According to a study conducted by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, the amount of commercial waste is much more significant than household waste. Some local authorities have begun ordering business to separate their waste, and the Jerusalem municipality is a leader in this field. According to figures from the Jerusalem municipality, 65 businesses in the city separate their waste, producing roughly 3,430 tons per month. Collecting commercial waste is important, as long as it does not happen at the expense of collecting and separating household waste. Another Israel Union for Environmental Defense report stated that “commercial waste can become a good, stable platform for strengthening household waste collection, and allow local authorities greater flexibility in committing to send waste to processing facilities, as they are built.” Although Jerusalem sets a good example when it comes to commercial waste, the capital is still far behind on household waste separation and recycling.