Cities say cumbersome and inefficient bureaucracy to blame.
By Zafrir Rinat | Nov. 10, 2014

Although garbage recycling is taking hold in more and more communities, many local authorities and waste industry professionals are complaining about the cost and bureaucracy involved, and are demanding that cities be allowed to run these operations, rather than the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The ministry’s “recycling revolution” is aimed at raising the rate of recycling and waste utilization for energy production from its current 20 percent to 70 percent by the end of the next decade. To make that happen, the levy for dumping waste at landfills was raised substantially and the profits from this levy go to the Maintenance of Cleanliness Fund, managed by the ministry to finance local authorities’ waste-separating activities (between “dry” waste – paper and packaging – and “wet” waste, which includes food scraps).

Some of the money was allocated to local authorities and private enterprises to build transfer stations for further sorting of the waste. Other monies were allocated to building facilities for recycling or to produce energy (biogas) via anaerobic digestion.

But local officials and professionals in the field claim that the developers who won tenders to build these facilities have had difficulty meeting timetables in many places and some have not even been built yet.For example, a plant to produce biogas in Ashkelon has been delayed because the site chosen for it posed a risk to groundwater. In Evron, in the Galilee, a similar plant has been delayed because the site lacks access roads. In some places, there was difficulty obtaining building permits.

Petah Tikva, meanwhile, has decided not to require residents to separate waste because of the high cost of collection and transport, and Be’er Sheva, which has such a program, is reconsidering it for the same reason.

The main complaint against the Environmental Protection Ministry is that it has created such a cumbersome and inefficient bureaucracy that the Maintenance of Cleanliness Fund is not using all its money; as a result, the treasury has decided to reallocate some of the money to other purposes that have nothing to do with recycling.

Moreover, while the local authorities now have to pay higher landfill levies, the ministry’s planning, logistical, and environmental demands make it difficult to maintain recycling or separation projects. Moreover, there aren’t enough incentives for towns that cooperate.

“The cost of waste removal has gone up dozens of percent in only a few years,” says Gil Livne, the Shoham local council chairman, who heads the Union of Local Authorities’ environment committee. “But instead of getting a reduced rate when we bring the separated waste to the transfer and sorting facilities, the prices there are still high.”

Local officials say the landfill levy has become untenable. A few months ago, ULA chairman Haim Bibas approached Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and asked him to delay the increase in the landfill levy, due next month.

Some believe the situation justifies a different approach.

“There is no alternative to dividing the country into waste treatment districts,” says Avi Novick, of the Shahaf environmental planning company, which performed a national waste survey for the ministry. “In each such district there would be a corporation operated by the municipalities in the area, similar to the water corporations, but adjusting for the problems that emerged in running those corporations.”

According to Novick, local authorities have an incentive to encourage recycling and waste separations through such corporations, because soon there won’t be any available landfill sites in the center and north, and the cost of sending waste to the Negev for burial will be extremely high.

The corporations will be funded by collecting fees from residents for garbage that isn’t separated, as is done in Europe. “This is a fee that can be charged by volume or weight,” says Daniel Morgenstern, former environmental advisor to ULA and a veteran promoter of recycling laws. “It will replace the faulty [landfill] levy that offers no incentive for residents to separate waste. Of course this will require amended legislation.”

Livne also supports a garbage fee in principle, if it is offest from local real estate taxes. He addressed the issue at a recycling industry conference last week at Ariel Sharon Park, which is located at Hiriya, once the country’s largest landfill. The conference was sponsored by the Manufacturers Association. “It’s time to think about whether we should be satisfied with only voluntary measures to make the public separate [waste],” he said.

The Environment Ministry is aware of the difficulties but is convinced that the moves to increase recycling are succeeding. “There are already 31 facilities planned for recycling or producing energy from waste, with developers that have been chosen and who’ve gotten bank guarantees,” said the ministry’s deputy director-general, Yoram Horowitz. “We are also making progress on building a large energy-production facility in the Dan region that will use separated waste, and which the government will be heavily involved in funding.”

Horowitz says the ministry is aware of a problem with the prices at the transfer and sorting stations, “because there aren’t yet new facilities that can compete on price,” but said there is a solution. “We will give subsidies to the operators of existing facilities. That should lead to a lower price to intake organic waste [food scraps] that were separated in the local authorities.”

Another way to bring down prices is to establish a committee with the treasury to monitor prices, he said, adding that the ministry has also streamlined the procedure for choosing developers to build new facilities, such that only those with land that has building permits will be chosen. In those places where planning and building has been delayed – Ashkelon, for example – the ministry is working with the Water Authority to find solutions.

The ministry stressed that there is enough capacity in existing facilities to absorb all the separated waste from cities that have begun separating, with Horowitz noting that the ministry had already allocated a billion shekels ($262.5 million) to the separation and recycling project. “Some has already been paid out, and some is in the form of commitments based on the pace of implementation.”

Horowitz does not deny that the supervision and control over the planning and construction of the various facilities has created a complicated bureaucratic process. “There’s no choice, because the business plans must be checked. We’re talking about a lot of public money,” he says.

Despite the claims of local authorities, ministry officials not only do not believe that the landfill levy should be eliminated, they support an increase. “The landfill levy is the incentive for cities to recycle,” says Horowitz.