Ministry releases plan to bring recycling up to European standards by 2030

Households will get financial incentives to separate organic waste into brown containers, all dry waste into orange ones and non-recyclable trash into green bins

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

Receptacles for waste separated at source. (lenscap67, iStock at Getty Images)
Receptacles for waste separated at source. (lenscap67, iStock at Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Ministry on Monday released an ambitious strategy to reverse Israel’s dismal record on recycling and dumping waste in landfill, in a bid to bring the country up to European standards by 2030.

The proposal marks a dramatic departure from the pro-incineration policy of Ze’ev Elkin, the previous environmental protection minister, and his director general, Guy Samet, who this month moved to the Energy Ministry.

The new policy will require households to separate their waste into three trash containers — brown ones for organic waste, such as vegetable clippings and yard trimmings; orange ones for all dry waste; and green ones for waste that cannot be recycled.

Each city, town or local authority will pick the economic incentives it thinks will be most cost-effective in encouraging residents to dump their trash in the right receptacles. The policy will be backed up by public information campaigns.

The ministry’s aim is to introduce separation of organic waste at source, rather than to separate it from other waste further down the line, as is done at present. It seeks to recycle 54 percent of total urban waste, including 70% of containers, and send just 20% to landfill (compared with 80% today) by the end of the decade. This, it says, will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 47% by 2030 and enable local authorities to save hundreds of millions of shekels over the period.

Sanitation workers prepare to empty a dumpster into a garbage truck in Jerusalem, file (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Separation at source ensures recyclable materials of a higher quality. A cardboard box contaminated by onion juice, or oil from a tuna can, for example, is no longer recyclable, nor is organic waste filled with broken glass shards.

Landfill creates greenhouse gases (principally through methane emissions), is costly, and pollutes the soil and groundwater as organic substances and non-organic ones, such as heavy metals, leach out.

By 2030, the ministry wants the entire infrastructure for its new policy to be in place, intending to contribute cash from its Clean Fund, which is financed from sources such as landfill fees and plastic bag levies.

Elkin’s plans for massive incineration plants to convert waste to energy, which were opposed by environmentalists, will be halved.

The Dublin Waste-to-Energy Facility, viewed from the Clontarf coast in Ireland. (O’Dea, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commos)

By 2050, the ministry hopes that Israel will have a circular economy, in which one person’s waste is another’s resource. This saves money, cuts global warming emissions and pollution, helps to conserve the environment, and reduces the need to mine new natural resources. It means ensuring that as many products as possible are recyclable, from the design stage on.

Under the new plan, organic waste, which accounts for 43% of total trash, will be sorted and then sent for biocomposting, a process that uses microorganisms to break down the material in a process that generates gas (methane and some carbon dioxide, which can be sold to industry) liquid compost (which gardeners and farmers can buy as fertilizer) and, depending on the purity of the waste, compost to be spread on gardens and fields. Dry waste, which accounts for 39% of total trash, will be sorted so that recyclable materials, such as paper, glass, metals and some plastics, can be sent for recycling in Israel or overseas.

Bundles of residential mixed fiber, made up of paper and cardboard, wait to be recycled in Westborough, Mass., September 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Garbage that cannot be recycled will be transferred to plants that incinerate it and in so doing generate energy or heat for industry, or refuse derived fuel (RDF) used for cement kilns, with landfill being the last resort. Some of the ash left after incineration will be used by the construction industry.

The ‘polluter pays’

The ministry wants framework legislation, based on the European directive for waste management, that will anchor the principle of “the polluter pays,” whereby the costs of dealing with waste are borne by those who produce it.

In the coming months, it will create a roadmap for the next decade, to turn the strategy — set out in a 179-page document — into a work plan with a timetable and details on funding.

The strategy was devised with the help of the Pareto Group consultancy and involved scores of local authority officials and other experts. It is the fruit of a waste review that Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel announced just a month after entering office last year.

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

In 2019, Israel generated some 5.8 million tonnes (6.4 million tons) of solid urban waste. According to Central Bureau of Statistics figures, each Israeli produces an average of 1.7 kilograms (3.75 lbs.) of waste every day – 21% more than the EU’s per capita daily average of 1.4 kilograms (three lbs).

Over the past decade, waste has increased by an average of 2.6% per year, of which 1.94% is explained by population growth and the rest by changes in consumption.

Without strong intervention, the ministry expects urban waste to rise to 7.5 million tonnes (8.3 million tons) by 2030.

An Environment Ministry team, chaired by Director General David Yahalomi,  conducted a cost-benefit analysis of four options, looking at direct as well as indirect costs, such as pollution.

The option of 54% recycling, 20% burial and 26% incineration came out at NIS 1.9 billion ($580 million) per year, compared with the most expensive, the “business as usual” scenario, which was priced at NIS 3.1 billion ($947.5 million) annually.

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

There are various economic incentive models to encourage recycling. In one, people pay the cost of not recycling by having to buy garbage bags for non-recyclable waste. In others, residents pay a basic fee, which guarantees the local authority a steady stream of income with which to deal with waste, and are charged extra for throwing out more than the basic weight in garbage that they have paid for.

Likud Minister Gila Gamliel speaks at a conference at Tel Aviv University on June 11, 2019. (Flash90)

In a landmark move in June, which signaled the start of a greener attitude to the environment, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel announced a temporary freeze on ministry waste policy — including moves to build incineration plants — so that she could conduct a review.

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