From 10,000 Israeli households separating their garbage four years ago, 215,000 do so today. The trend is favorable, but separation facilities are not keeping up with the demand.
By Zafrir Rinat     | Jun. 24, 2013 | Source:  Haaretz
Three years after the Environmental Protection Ministry began promoting its garbage-sorting and recycling project, household waste separation is now progressing rapidly – perhaps too rapidly for the country’s old garbage-treatment infrastructure.

Four years ago, fewer than 10,000 Israeli households separated their garbage for recycling. Today, that number is around 215,000.

According to a report by the Union for Environmental Defense – to be presented Monday at a conference on the subject – half of Israelis live in communities that have joined the waste separation and recycling project. Some 21 percent of these residents reportedly separate their garbage.

However, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa have only just begun to separate their household waste, with fewer than 6,000 households doing so. In Ashkelon, 8,600 households separate their garbage for recycling. The process requires people to separate dry waste (mainly packaging) from wet waste (mainly food).

When the project was launched, Israel was only recycling 15 percent of its garbage, lagging far behind Western Europe, where 40 to 60 percent of garbage is recycled or burned in incinerators to produce energy. But the gap between Israel and the United States is smaller. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg only recently announced that his city was joining a garbage separation program.

One reason so many local authorities are participating in the project is that the Environmental Protection Ministry has significantly raised the cost of treating non-recycled garbage. The money charged goes to build garbage separation facilities and new recycling centers.

Moreover, two years ago a law went into effect governing treatment of packaging, after which packaging manufacturers and importers established a corporation called Tamir to collect the packaging. Tamir works in cooperation with local government.

The Emek Hefer Regional Council was among the first to separate its garbage on a large scale. “Our goal is to bury as little as possible both for environmental reasons and to save money,” said the deputy regional council chairman, Eldad Shalem.

Almost 100 percent of Emek Hefer’s households separate their garbage, significantly reducing landfill.

Tamir CEO Kobi Dar says the orange-colored dry-garbage bins are now serving some 50,000 people. Dar predicts that by the end of the year that number will double.

Tamir has also begun installing purple bins for collecting glass, and is working with local government to increase public awareness about garbage separation.

But separation facilities in Israel are not keeping up with the demand. They are old and at some point will become overloaded. Some do not meet advanced environmental standards, others lack proper permits and some are too far from collection points.

“We save the landfill charge but we have to transport the organic garbage to a distant site in the Jordan Valley,” Shalem says.

“Meanwhile, we have a site in our area that is supposed to treat the waste, but because of legal and planning delays, we still can’t use it.”

In the larger cities, the garbage separation project has encountered resistance, because of the difficulty of collecting and dealing with different kinds of canning in the dense urban environment.

The mayor of one large town in central Israel told Haaretz that the Environmental Protection Ministry is spending a great deal of money on unnecessary facilities, citing the separation of cans of different colors. He added that he believes mixed garbage could be collected in cities and transported to an advanced separation facility.

Naama Ashur Ben-Ari, head of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s garbage department, said the project is moving ahead at a “reasonable” pace, considering the developers who were supposed to build the facilities to handle the separated waste didn’t want to start until enough people were separating their garbage, and mayors did not want to start collecting separated garbage until there were enough facilities.

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, a number of advanced separation and recycling facilities are slated to begin operation. Organic garbage will be separated in closed structures and turned into fertilizer or used as fuel to produce electricity. One of these will be the largest such facility in the world, Ashur Ben-Ari said.

Ashur Ben-Ari says there is no need to collect garbage the old-fashioned way and depend on advanced separation facilities. “From everything we have learned in other countries, it is very important to separate the garbage before it reaches the separation facilities. This is hard to do and so every community needs to find the conditions that suit it, in terms of collection frequency, for example.”

The extent of the challenge was outlined in a recent survey conducted by the consulting firms Shahaf and Gilmor for the Dan Association of Cities for Sanitation. The survey found that food scraps were being dumped into the bin for packaging materials. One of the garbage collectors, who is from Congo, reportedly pointed to a bin for dry waste and said: “People apparently don’t yet understand that they are throwing a lot of food into this bin. But I see that it’s slowly improving.”