Jerusalem breaks law on recycling packaging and containers, faces fines

Environmental Protection Ministry warns city hall it is acting illegally by failing to provide special orange recycling bins for each apartment building

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Scene from a promotional video issued by the Tamir Recycling Corporation showing a green bin for general household waste being joined by an orange bin for recyclable containers. (Screenshot)
Scene from a promotional video issued by the Tamir Recycling Corporation showing a green bin for general household waste being joined by an orange bin for recyclable containers. (Screenshot)

The Environmental Protection Ministry is threatening the Jerusalem municipality with a NIS 528,000 ($150,000) fine for breaking a law passed in 2011 that obliges all local authorities to distribute recycling bins for containers and packaging.

Israel has a source separated recycling system, which means that the public is responsible for separating trash into the correct, color-coded bins. Source recycled items, as opposed to those that are thrown into the general trash and sorted later, are usually of higher quality because the chances of cross contamination, for example from food waste, oil, or grease, are lower.

Jerusalem, however, operates a system in which residents dump waste containers and packaging into the general trash. This is sent to a company in the north of the city that then separates these items out and sells them on.

The contract that the city has with the company, Greenet, whose business model partly relies on selling the container waste, is apparently what stands between it and implementation of the container recycling law.

Legal obligations

Local authorities are mandated to provide recycling infrastructure, including separate bins for collecting packaging waste (everything from bottles, cartons, tin cans and plastic bags to wrapping for crackers and salad containers) as well as for glass, paper, thick cardboard and electronic waste. Facilities for collecting wood (such as pallets) must be provided for businesses. The local authorities must transport this waste to sorting and/or recycling plants and educate the public on how to use the various receptacles. Green bins are provided for items that cannot be thrown into the recycling bins, such as wet wipes, disposable plastic, dirty diapers and food containers with leftover food in them.

Jerusalemites currently have access inside or outside their apartment blocks to green trash cans for mixed general waste, and to two or sometimes three types of containers — for recyclable plastic bottles with lids, paper products and cardboard boxes. They must travel — sometimes substantial distances — to neighborhood recycling compounds to recycle metal, electrical waste and glass (other than bottles covered by a bottle deposit law).

The orange bins for recyclable packaging and containers seen in 93 local authorities and serving some 4.5 million Israelis are conspicuously absent from the capital. These are supposed to stand next to the general waste bins available to every apartment building.

Instead, the city’s residents throw much of what should go into the orange bins into the general trash.

Three men each pushing a green garbage bin walk in Jerusalem on October 27, 2009. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

For reasons that remain unclear, the Jerusalem Municipality did not sign a contract with the not-for-profit Tamir Corporation, which in December 2011 received the government license to take responsibility for collecting packing and containers — with producers and importers footing the bill. Instead, it opened a plant in the north of the city in 2015 to recycle all household waste — including containers — and signed a contract which allows the plant’s operator, Greenet, to sift out the containers and packaging and sell it on.

Greennet’s director-general Ofer Bogin confirmed to The Times of Israel that this is part of the company’s business model. If this model is harmed, Greennet will demand compensation from the municipality, Bogin said.

But while the Environmental Protection Ministry provided part of the funding for the plant, it evidently did not approve the unusual arrangement for containers, and instead pressured the municipality to sign on for the orange bins.

At the end of December 2016, the municipality capitulated and signed a contract with the Tamir Corporation, but only for a very limited pilot project in the neighborhood of Beit Hakerem, and only for two years. It also agreed to the distribution of around 100 purple glass recycling bins around the city — about half the number needed in the capital.

Bottles and drinks cans containing less than 1.5 liters, which consumers have returned to a supermarket to retrieve their deposits, stand outside a city store. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

When the agreement ran out last year, the Tamir Corporation refused to renew without receiving a program for dispersal of the orange bins throughout the city. It eventually accepted the municipality’s request to supply bins to 80,000 families — a third of the city’s total. But since then, nothing has happened. (The purple glass recycling bins around the city remain, even though the contract ran out.)

‘Disappearing’ recycling bins

What’s more, as residents have noticed and as the Environmental Protection Ministry has confirmed, the municipality has even been removing existing recycling bins.

Environmental Protection Ministry Director-General Guy Samet. (Screenshot)

Now, Environmental Protection Ministry Director-General Guy Samet has warned  Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion that he has 30 days to reason why the municipality should not be fined for breaking the container recycling law.

If he fails to do this, or fails to convince the ministry, he will have a further 30 days to pay the fine.

As of press time, the municipality had not responded to the ministry, but the mayor had initiated a meeting with the Tamir Corporation, which has been set for November 13.

Reducing landfill

The Environmental Protection Ministry aims to reduce the proportion of waste sent for burial from the current 80% to 26% by 2030. Toxins released from waste in landfill pollute the soil, groundwater and air.

A bottle bin in Jerusalem for bottles of over 1.5 liters which are not covered by the bottle deposit law. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The ministry’s three-pronged approach, which reflects the EU directive on waste, is firstly to encourage the public to separate recyclables at source (via the various bins), then to have the remaining general household waste (stuff that cannot be put into the bins, such as organic waste) sent for further sorting, and finally, to establish waste to energy plants that will incinerate what is definitely non-recyclable, creating energy in the process.

Where does all the waste go?

Greennet, Jerusalem’s large general waste sorting plant in Atarot, receives and sorts the entire contents of the city’s green bins — 1,500 tons of it per day.

Around 60% of what Greennet receives is sent for burial in the Negev because its value is too low for recycling.

With the exception of the packaging and containers, which are sold, the remaining trash — principally organic waste and other bits that have not been separated out in Atarot — is sent to a company called Veridis, which further refines it, selling two-thirds of it to the agricultural industry and sending a third to landfill.

A bulldozer lifts waste at the Greenet recycling plant in Atarot industrial zone, north of Jerusalem on June 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Waste to energy

On Thursday, the ministries of environmental protection and finance announced publication of  Preliminary Qualification for the country’s first waste-to-energy plant, set to be built in Ma’ale Adumim, close to Jerusalem in the West Bank.

A PQ sets out the basic requirements for companies that may be interested in bidding for a tender to design, finance, build and operate the plant, which will serve metropolitan Jerusalem and its environs. The plant, whose expected construction costs are in the region of a billion shekels ($285 million), will take at least six years to build.

Jerusalem Municipality: ‘We are recycling pioneers’

The Jerusalem Municipality described itself in a statement as a leader in recycling and a pioneer for having established the general waste sorting plant together with the Environmental Protection Ministry.

It said it was in constant contact with the ministry to find the best solutions to fit the city’s particular needs.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion speaks at a ceremony launching new electric buses in Jerusalem, September 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

There are more than 3,000 recycling bins throughout the city, the statement went on, saying just a few bins were recently removed either because they were damaged and provided a safety risk, or because they blocked sidewalks.

But 90 neighborhood recycling compounds have been refurbished and many more will be created in future, the municipality said.

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