Despite assurances by health authorities that reusables are safe if washed properly, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv renege on commitment to greener, safer utensils

Nir Hasson 02.09.2020

A school meal served on washable dishes at a school in Kibbutz Kramim, January 20, 2020.
A school meal served on washable dishes at a school in Kibbutz Kramim, January 20, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The move to stop using disposable utensils in schools and preschools in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other major Israeli cities has been halted due to the coronavirus crisis.

Last year, before the pandemic erupted, there had been a growing demand by parents to stop using disposable utensils to reduce waste. Many cities, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ashkelon and Holon, announced plans to move toward reusable dishes and cutlery while installing dishwashers in the schools or preschools, or giving pupils their own sets of utensils to be washed at home. 

But within less than a year of announcing the plans, they have been frozen, with municipalities citing the coronavirus outbreak and hygiene concerns, despite the Health Ministry clarifying that reusable utensils were safe if washed at temperatures over 65 degrees Celsius.

File photo: Single use plastic cups and containers.
File photo: Single use plastic cups and containers.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

In its announcement last October, Tel Aviv said that the city would purchase a personal set of utensils for each pupil to replace the disposables, with the aim to complete this distribution and eliminate disposables by the end of the school year. 

Similarly, the Jerusalem local authority, which runs the country’s largest school system, committed to removing disposable utensils from state secular, religious and Arabic-medium schools. No such plan was advanced for the ultra-Orthodox schools because of concerns over kosher rules. These plans were also stymied because of the health crisis.

“The cities are choosing to make it easy for themselves,” said a source involved with the issue. “There really isn’t any reason to stop the plan to remove disposables, this is just an easy way to save on the budgets and continue to be neglectful.”

More than 20 million plastic utensils are thrown away each year in state-run schools in Tel Aviv, five million more in Jerusalem. Aside from the environmental damage, many parents are also concerned about toxic materials leaching into the food from the plastic containers used to deliver to schools. Food often sits in those containers for many hours before it is distributed. Under these plans, the food was meant to be stored in stainless steel containers, which are reusable and safer; this transition has also been postponed.

Last week hundreds of parents called the Tel Aviv municipal hotline demanding that at the very least, the food should not be delivered to the schools in plastic containers. 

Signs against the use of disposables in school, Mazkeret Batya, Israel, 2019.
Signs against the use of disposables in school, Mazkeret Batya, Israel, 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Some cities have successfully removed disposables from their schools and will continue with reusable utensils this year. In the central city of Kfar Saba, a pioneer in this field, no disposables are used, even in transport. Herzliya, Pardes Hanna-Karkur, Ashdod and Ramat Hasharon have all succeeded in going some way toward the same goal. Schools in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon are also sticking to the original plan, and have started installing dishwashers.

Both the Tel Aviv municipality and the Jerusalem municipality said that they intended to pursue the plans to get rid of disposables, but had to delay implementation due to health concerns posed by the coronavirus.