Early in life, I became aware of a common disturbance nestled within the landscape: litter. The prevalence of litter in nature is a significant problem in the Jewish state.


GARBAGE COVERS the banks of a stream in the Judean desert in 2019. (photo credit: SARA KLATT/FLASH90)
GARBAGE COVERS the banks of a stream in the Judean desert in 2019. (photo credit: SARA KLATT/FLASH90)

When I was 12 years old, I went camping with my family in the Negev Desert. We were taken to a beautiful and remote spot. We slept under the stars and ate food cooked over an open fire. It was an oasis surrounded by hills of sand and sheer sandstone cliffs. My cousin and I woke up at dawn and walked up a hill to watch the sunrise over the vast desert. I love exploring Israel’s nature, from the forests of the Galilee to the deserts in the South. However, early in life, I became aware of a common disturbance nestled within the landscape: litter.

The prevalence of litter in nature is a significant problem in the Jewish state.You may be familiar with the story of Israel’s past ecological successes. When Mark Twain visited Ottoman Palestine in the late 1800’s, he noted, “The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent.”

Since becoming the Jewish state, Israel has successfully transformed the land, making the desert bloom. Israel is the only country in the world to have more trees in 2000 than it did in 1900.In 1948, roughly 2% of Israel was covered in trees. That number has grown to 8.5%, a significant accomplishment for a desert nation. Israel’s national parks are globally acclaimed. In 2012, National Geographic named the Israel National Trail one of the “holy grails of hikes,” placing it among the top 20 in the world. Like many other of the improbable accomplishments of the Jewish state, the revival of its natural beauty has been a great achievement.Due to these successful conservation efforts, Israelis spend a large amount of time in nature.

Unfortunately, the massive popularity of Israel’s natural sites has yielded great amounts of litter. Many independent groups in Israel have been trying to fight this pandemic of littering by organizing clean-up and educational programs through various grassroots efforts. Nonetheless, the problem has persevered.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Israelis have spent even more time in nature, and many have finally begun to realize the impact of litter on their surroundings, and to appreciate the importance of a clean and healthy ecosystem. This positive shift in attitude is an improvement, but to truly eliminate the problem, littering must be addressed as a societal issue through a meaningful, organized and long-term solution that targets the behavior that leads to littering in the first place. My family and I, along with many important organizations, have been working on this problem for many years, and we hope that the time has come to finally fix it.

IN 2014, my family commissioned two public policy specialists, Adv. Avital Eshet and Dr. Maya Negev from Tel Aviv University, to carry out research on littering behavior and prevention in Israel. My father was always surprised and ashamed by the large amounts of trash that he saw in Israel, and as I grew older I also began to take notice. I am a surfer, and am always sad to see the beaches strewn with garbage after the crowds have gone.

The investigation, which was carried out in collaboration with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) outlined a plan to address the littering issue. The researchers cleverly analyzed successful Australian and American anti-littering campaigns, and their work culminated in a comprehensive national plan based on three precepts: public education and communication, efficient infrastructure, and effective enforcement. The report posited that the eradication of litter in Israel was not a standalone issue, but one that exists in the broader context of education for sustainability, waste management and resource efficiency.

To enact progress, a society must change the behavior of individuals, and thus, the goal is not just to clean up nature, but also to change the mindset that enables littering in the first place. The plan also emphasized the importance of coordinating all independent efforts towards a unified goal.Due to a lack of government support, this important research was initially neglected, but in 2018, SPNI used the report as a basis for its renewed initiative against littering. This year, the organization introduced B’Shvil HaTeva (“For Nature”), an app that strategically implements the national anti-littering plan. SPNI in Israel (Haganat HaTeva) is the nation’s oldest nonprofit environmental organization. For more than 60 years, SPNI has dedicated itself to preserving Israel’s natural resources and protecting its environment, biodiversity, and unique landscape. The organization has had many successes, including the preservation of Israel’s wildflowers in the 1960s, the re-flooding of the Hula wetlands, and the establishment of the Israel National Trail.

B’Shvil HaTeva, the new app, primarily functions as a guide to Israel’s national parks and nature reserves. It is also designed to gather data and influence behavior. The app provides users with real-time stats on all of its sites including crowdedness and cleanliness levels, so users can make informed decisions about where they want to go. Users are also encouraged to submit feedback about the places they visit. This allows us to better understand demographics and trends in visitor behavior, including garbage disposal and littering. The app also aims to educate users about sustainability and best practices to engage in while visiting nature.

This efficient solution was designed in conjunction with Kayma, an Israeli company that is on the cutting edge of large-scale problem-solving. Founded by Duke University professor and behavioral economics trailblazer Dan Arieli, Kayma builds technological tools and implements research-based solutions that shape behavior in complex systems. Kayma has advised organizations ranging from Google to NASA, and it played a key role in designing Israel’s COVID contact-tracing infrastructure.KAYMA CONDUCTED its own investigation of littering culture in Israel and found that if just 3% of the Israeli population could be motivated to stop littering, the rest would follow suit.

After considering various options, it was decided that a digital solution like an interactive app was the most effective way to impact a change. By integrating a highly controlled guide (the app) into the nature experience, the user will be nudged towards adopting new behaviors. In an interaction designed to instill an appreciation for pristine spaces, users are asked to rate the cleanliness of the park they visit. As they do so, they are prompted to notice litter, and thus become aware of its negative impact on their surroundings.Littering is a vicious cycle. In places where litter already exists, individuals feel more comfortable littering. The B’Shvil HaTeva app seeks to disrupt this cycle by inducing behavioral change, but also by making clean-up efforts more effective. The app acts as the central nervous system of the anti-littering campaign. For example, metrics collected from the app can provide efficient location information for clean-up volunteers, and also help municipalities optimize their garbage disposal services.

B’Shvil HaTeva has already been downloaded to more than 15,000 devices. The immediate goal is to acquire 100,000-200,000 users, and to log over 1,000 site reports within the next six months. To reach this goal, I am hoping to raise enough funds to hire an app manager and to cover marketing costs. SPNI is likewise working to get the support of important organizations like the Jewish National Fund, the Environmental Protection Ministry, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. We are certain that with the changing attitudes in the population, as well as the support of the newly formed government of Israel, our efforts will be successful.

Addressing the problem of littering from both an environmental and social perspective is the best way to change littering culture in Israel. The B’Shvil HaTeva app is designed to accomplish this while providing nature-goers with an invaluable guide. Bringing attention to this initiative is paramount now because the issue has been revived during the pandemic. We are on the verge of establishing a new norm in behavior for a cleaner and healthier Holy Land. I urge everyone who loves Israel and cares about the environment to get involved in this movement.

As the caretakers of the land, we must do our best to preserve it for generations to come. Israel is a small country with very little natural space. We must therefore be committed to protecting it. Ventures such as ours have been immensely successful in other countries where coordinated efforts and effective public outreach have permanently (nearly) eradicated littering. We are hopeful that with proper support, we will have immaculate natural spaces in Israel in the near future.

The writer is a high school senior living in New York City, where he was born, although he grew up in Israel until age 10. He helped found his school’s Jewish Student Union, and has participated in Jewish and Zionist activism within organizations such as AIPAC. He is involved with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel in an effort to prevent littering in Israel’s natural spaces.