If a host of recent environmental initiatives succeed, more than half of our garbage will be recycled or used as an energy source within a decade.
By Zafrir Rinat

In much of Europe and some American states, being civilized enough not to leave your trash on the ground isn’t enough – you also can’t throw your soda can and paper napkins into the same trash bin. You have to deposit different kinds of waste in different containers so that it can be recycled. Now the recycling revolution has also arrived in Israel – in the form of a recent initiative by the Environmental Protection Ministry and local authorities to sort urban garbage, separating out materials that can be reused. The project comes hot on the heels of a number of important laws passed over the last four years and, within a decade, more than half of Israeli waste is to be recycled or used as an energy source.

Despite advances in legislation and partial funding, however, there is still the question of whether recycling plants and local authorities will be able to deal financially and organizationally with the ministry’s stringent demands.

Last year a law requiring manufacturers and importers to collect used cardboard containers of various goods, in cooperation with local government, went into effect. And over the past two years heavy fines have been set for the dumping of urban garbage. The fines serve to fund the ministry’s recycling projects and are meant to provide an incentive to local government to build sorting centers and create agreements to transfer usable materials to recycling factories. The Environmental Protection Ministry is also currently promoting a law in the Knesset to govern the recycling of used electronic devices. And the ministry has already been funding local government efforts to sort urban garbage into wet (food scraps ) and dry (mostly plastic and paper ). Several cities, including Tel Aviv, Kfar Sava and Ramat Hasharon, have begun experimenting with trash sorting in some neighborhoods.

In addition, a law to recycle automobile tires was passed three years ago, requiring manufacturers and importers to collect and transfer at least half of their used tires to collection points.

Tire recycling plants such as Tyrec in northern Samaria in the West Bank are already deep into this work. According to plant director Amal Asad, however, it is difficult for the business to make a profit. The first hurdle is in collecting used tires from manufacturers and importers. Some of these tires are sold abroad and do not reach Israeli recycling plants. “I can’t compete with the prices they get for exporting the [used] tires,” Asad says.

Another significant problem is locating markets for Tyrec’s ground-rubber product – the same obstacle faced by building-material recyclers who produce sand suitable for use in new construction. The most important market for these recycled products is supposed to be the government bodies that construct roads and infrastructure. The problem is that “everything moves so slowly,” Asad says. The government carries out “all kinds of checks and experiments, but these products are already being used for roads and infrastructure in countries like the United States – and there is no reason they can’t be used in Israel too.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry has recently sent a reminder to tire importers and manufacturers that they must supply proof that the used tires they export are suitable for reuse and will be recycled. If they do not have such proof they must turn them over to local recycling plants.

A new reality

Treatment of urban garbage faces its own major obstacles. There is a dearth of high-quality installations to accept the amount of waste that local governments are supposed to sort and turn into new products or agricultural fertilizer. Poor municipalities also face difficulties with the expense of planning systems for the sorting of waste materials and operating way stations before garbage is sent for recycling. There is also concern that the companies treating the garbage will monopolize the industry and set high prices.

It is also not yet clear to what extent the market can absorb the recycled materials, although the ministry is convinced that the market will respond to the new reality and develop a range of possibilities for recycled plastic and paper.

The ministry is well aware of the difficulties in this area and is trying to deal with them. A new project to locate appropriate areas for recycling and energy-production plants is being expedited. And NIS 300 million has been invested in municipalities to aid them in planning and building the required new infrastructure.

If recycling efforts succeed, Israel can significantly reduce the amount of garbage it sends to dumping grounds – to levels similar to those in Europe. At the same time, it is important to remember that the Europeans do not base their green efforts only on recycling – they continue to expand their capabilities for producing energy with fuel made from waste materials. For example, in Denmark, 54 percent of urban waste is used this way, and 34 percent in France, where only 18 percent of waste is recycled. The burning of waste is expensive and has aroused strong public opposition in Israel out of concern about air pollution. Nonetheless, at least one large plant for the absorption of waste, planned for the Dan region in the center of the country, is to use waste as fuel in the furnaces of the Nesher cement plant in Ramle.