Israel and the Environment

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By Rafi Sela

Facts first … The average Israeli family produces two metric tons of waste each year; which translates into 1.8 kg produced by each Israeli, every day. Moreover, the overall growth rate of waste production in Israel is 2%-3%, annually.

Israeli wasted

Israel, The “Startup Nation,” leads the world in innovation in mostaspects of life.  Therefore, it is very strange, (to say the least), that THE ENVIRONMENT, an issue with such profound impact on quality of life and cost of living, remains at the bottom of Israel’s list of priorities.

Sorting (recycling) at the source has failed in Israel. Cities and villages are contaminated with endless bins of plastic paper and other packaging products. Since it is not economical to recycle plastic, the sorted crushed plastic ultimately ends up at landfills. Israel, like other countries is inundated with plastic, contaminated cardboard and paper, and the worst of all, diapers. The latest packaging of liquids is composed of combination of cardboard and plastic, and is usually contaminated with food remnants.

The government office of environmental protection is staffed by the lowest level of politicians. The civil servants who operate this office are ill informed and do not possess the tools to perform their jobs. However, there is a vehicle for change, called policy-making! Regulators usually formulate and enforce regulations that control the environment. In Israel, policymakers have no idea how to craft efficient regulations, and therefore, prefer policies which have no legal standing, other than funneling government funds to unnecessary projects. The inability of the office to supply adequate regulations and strict enforcement have created real chaos in the country.

There are endless examples of failed projects that were initiated and partially funded by government grants and have now been turned into “white elephants”. The reasons for these failures are always the same — which is, a lack of professional understanding, adherence to old European solutions, and lots of EGOs.

The direct result of the lack of proper, effective environmental regulation results in a high cost of living (reflected in high real estate taxes and poor air quality). The sad outcome is that the average Israeli citizen believes the status quo is inevitable, and as such, does not revolt. Waste disposal costs account for a very high percentage of municipal expenditures, in some cases, nearing almost 40% of the total municipal budget. Moreover, tens of double tandem trucks continue to swamp the major roads to haul the waste to landfills in the south. This waste convoy generates high volume transport and contributes to major traffic jams.

The standard worldwide procedure for waste treatment is creation of landfill. However, in Israel, where land is scarce and very expensive on one hand, and very densely populated on the other hand, there are no real waste management solutions. While the modern world has produced new approaches to transform waste into energy, as well as ‘Zero Waste’ systems, Israel still struggles to identify its own effective solutions. Although technology, ideas and smart people are not scarce, care for the environment is not a top-tier interest. 

It is of greatest concern that the policy of the department of environmental protection does not take into consideration the cost of treatment of the various waste streams. By failing to enforce proper treatment of existing waste streams, their bad approach, hikes up the cost of waste management for average citizens.

Another major problem is agriculture waste. In the north, there are olive groves and banana fields, and in the south, there are various vegetables and palm trees (dates). Most of agricultural waste is burned at the side of the roads, which causes significant pollution and greatly increases the chance of wild fires.

The sad reality is that the lack of sorely needed attention to the creation of proper environmental regulations is notgoing to change soon. Although there have been some major achievements regarding Waste-to-Energy and Zero Waste technologies, which are both advancing rapidly in other parts of the world, Israel has lost the lead in proactive environmental action and has fallen extremely far behind.

Three major problems are endangering the environment:

  1. Organic waste from MSW (Municipal Solid Waste).
  2. Plastic – world crisis.
  3. Sludge from Waste Water Treatment plants.

Fixes to the three problems cited above are generally handled by major corporations, without really looking at a “circular economy” solution. It is important to understand that solving one of the aforementioned issues does nothing to solve the rest. Only a complete solution will make a difference. The circular economy approach deals simultaneously with ALL waste types (MSW, Agriculture, Industrial and Sludge), while generating energy products on the other — all without any landfilling (Zero Waste).

In the next discussion we will show some new solutions based on a real circular economy process.

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