Environmental Protection Ministry, green groups concerned over lack of proper treatment facilities for products like batteries, paint and pharmaceuticals

Alphi Shauli
Published: 07.29.12

The Environmental Protection Ministry has recently raised concerns over lack of proper treatment for hazardous waste produced by private consumers.

Many products, like batteries, pharmaceuticals, florescent light bulbs, pesticides, paints and glues – to name a few – are regularly used and disposed of by private consumers, but only a fraction of them are properly managed or recycled.

The ministry fears that the lack of proper waste management will bring about serious consequences in the future, especially since many of these hazardous materials end up seeping into groundwater.

The ministry said that the average individual produces about 5kg of hazardous waste a year, but while the treatment and recycling of similar, industry-produced waste, is regulated by law, there are no clear guidelines as to household waste.

According to the ministry’s Environmental Services Company (ESC), Israel currently lacks facilities for treatment of hazardous household waste, resulting in less than 10% of it treated or recycled.

Batteries, for instance, contain nickel, cadmium, zinc and in some case even mercury, which are not biodegradable, Dr. Gilad Globe, of ESC said. “If they are disposed of in the same way and in the same dump as regular household waste, they find their way into groundwater.

“To illustrate, if you threw away a battery in 1980, chances are that it wound up in your tap water in 2010,” he said.

“We all have hazardous materials in our homes,” Yossi Ziv, CEO of Ecosol, told Ynet. “The public needs to understand that the treatment of such waste must only be handled by licensed facilities. But the majority of waste never gets to them.”

Batteries are the most common kind of hazardous household waste and according to Globe, progress has been made, and special collection stations have been set up in municipalities, schools, workplaces, photocopy stores and some post offices.

Still, many believe that the recycling method should be changed as only a fraction of batteries used are actually recycled.

“Battery recycling is essentially voluntary. We have to find ways to get consumers to want to do it. Maybe by offering discounts on fresh batteries when recycling old ones.”

But what about other hazardous household waste? Consumers wishing to recycle pharmaceuticals, paint, pesticides etc., often find that they have nowhere to do so. Municipalities are supposed to provide consumers with information about the proper recycling centers.

“In Europe and the United States the issue of treating hazardous household waste has garnered wide public support. Uri Shtarkman, head of Veolia Israel Environmental Services, said “This issue has to be under constant supervision. It cannot be swept under the rug.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry said that, “The new electronic waste recycling bill, which will soon be up for its second and third readings, gives special attention to the recycling of batteries.

“The bill mandates that manufacturers and importers collect used batteries. We are sure it will prompt a dramatic rise in the recycling percentages of this product.”

The majority of western countries, the ministry added, “Do not mandate the special or separate treatment of hazardous household waste, due to its relatively low levels of risk. In Israel, this waste is transferred to the various facilities that treat household waste, to minimize the risk to the environment.

“The ministry makes sure that the treatments are done in accordance with professional guidelines and the strictest standards, which aim to prevent the pollution of groundwater.”