In new push, government hopes to get Israelis to sort food waste from other trash

Draft rules to discourage sending organic waste from kitchens and gardens to landfills while incentivizing local authorities to separate at source, build recycling facilities

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

An illustrative photo of organic waste for composting. (Maerzkind via iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative photo of organic waste for composting. (Maerzkind via iStock by Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Ministry plans to begin pushing for organic waste to be separated from other trash and recycled, but is stopping short of mandating that local authorities implement programs to collect such waste separately, as is more common in Europe.

New regulations have been drafted and were issued last week for public comment ahead of their likely enactment, a step that comes after years of largely failed efforts by the ministry to encourage households and businesses to separate organic waste “at source,” when people discard such materials.

While recycling of bottles and glass is common across Israel, only a small number of councils currently collect organic waste separately from other types of trash.

Food leftovers and garden pruning account for around 40% of all municipal trash in Israel by weight.

Around a third of such waste is separated after collection, composted and used for so-called land reclamation. The composting process, which does not meet Western standards, can leave organic waste containing remnants of non-organic garbage such as shards of glass.

The rest is buried in landfill sites, where it releases methane as it decomposes.

The Dudaim dump site is the biggest landfill in Israel, near the Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel, August 10, 2016. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

The methane generated by organic material in Israel’s landfill sites contributes eight to ten percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, the ministry has calculated. While methane remains in the atmosphere for less time than carbon dioxide, it can have a much higher effect on warming the atmosphere in the short term, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Before burial, unseparated organic waste can soil other types of garbage, such as paper or cardboard, making them unfit for recycling. Once decomposing underground, the organic trash generates noxious smells and exudes liquids that pollute the soil and groundwater.

Organic waste separated at source, however, can be recycled into high-quality compost for agriculture, horticulture as well as land reclamation.

Workers sorting garbage at the Greenet recycling plant in the Atarot industrial zone, north of Jerusalem, on June 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The new regulations aim to discourage the burial of organic matter by making it more expensive to do so, while encouraging separation before collection by providing economic incentives to local authorities.

The regulations, if implemented, would ban landfill companies from burying organic matter that has not been treated for methane emissions beforehand (via different forms of composting).

Because large-scale composting facilities that meet international standards do not yet exist in Israel, the ministry is inviting local authorities to bid for some of the NIS 600 million ($170 million) it has set aside for the construction, upgrading and operation of such facilities, pledging to finance up to 60% of each project.

It will also pay local authorities that get households to separate their organic from other waste NIS 80 ($22.5) per ton — roughly what is paid in Europe.

In this August 31, 2018, photo, pedestrians walk by an organic waste collection bin given to residents by the city to separate their leftovers and yard waste from other garbage in New York. (AP/Stephen Groves)

Approximately 5.8 million tons of municipal waste are produced annually in Israel, with the total volume increasing by an annual average of 2.6% — in line with population growth.

In 2006, the government introduced a Sustainable Solid Waste Management Master Plan, which set new goals for national and local governments, including reducing the total quantity of waste in general, and reaching a 50% recycling rate by 2015. It failed.

In 2009, then Environment Minister Gilad Erdan (currently Israel’s ambassador to the UN) tried to introduce bins for organic material into homes so that pure organic waste could be separated and collected at source.

But that initiative failed as well. The public was not sufficiently educated about recycling and the facilities to compost the waste did not exist.

In June 2020, former Environmental Protection minister Gila Gamliel set a target for the next 10 years of reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills from 80% percent to 20%.

In 2021, the government set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a low-carbon economy, determining that emissions from solid waste should fall by 47% by 2030, compared with 2015.

The European Union has announced that it will implement separation-at-source of all commercial and institutional organic waste by December 2023, after which binding annual targets will be set.

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