New environment minister takes fresh look at contentious waste incinerator plan

New environment minister takes fresh look at contentious waste incinerator plan

Gila Gamliel reexamining entire ministry strategy on waste treatment, including controversial plans, recently approved by planners, to spend NIS 2.8 billion on incineration

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

Sorting of plastic waste. (BizTV screenshot)
Sorting of plastic waste. (BizTV screenshot)

Gila Gamliel, the new environmental protection minister, is reviewing the ministry’s strategy for dealing with waste, which includes looking at controversial plans to invest NIS 2.8 billion ($800 million) of taxpayers’ money in subsidizing three massive waste incineration plants in the center of the country.

That plan was greenlighted by the National Infrastructure Committee last month.

On Monday, the minister met with representatives of environmental organizations where she raised the issue of the incinerators and gave many of those present the impression that she felt uncomfortable about them.

A source close to her confirmed later in the day that as part of the process of determining policy, she is undertaking a thorough review of all aspects of the ministry’s waste treatment strategy. She is looking at world trends and economic models and listening to the positions of members of the public and various organizations, the source added, and has not yet reached any conclusions about waste incinerators or any other treatment form.

The new Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, seen with her predecessor Zeev Elkin at the Ministry of Environmental Protection in Jerusalem, on May 18, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

A first incineration plant, named The Good Samaritan, beyond the three announced recently, is planned for Ma’ale Adumim, near Jerusalem, and is opposed by many local residents who fear the potential for pollution.

Monday was the deadline for bidders for the prequalifying stage of the Ma’ale Adumim tender.

The focus on incineration appears to be at odds with the direction that the European Union is taking.

In 2015, the EU Commission adopted an action plan for the circular economy based on a “waste hierarchy” which prioritizes waste prevention, reuse, and recycling over “other recovery” and “disposal” methods, on the grounds that they have the highest potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A circular economy is one in which one person’s waste is another’s resource. Circular systems emphasize reuse, repair, refurbishment, re-manufacturing and recycling to create a closed system, which requires minimum new inputs, generates minimum waste, and therefore leaves as small a carbon footprint as possible.

In March, this year, the EU Commission adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan.

The document, the fruit of five years work, underlines what environmental activist have been saying for years: that the best way to change people’s thinking and behavior is via the pocket, with economic incentives or disincentives, such as taxes for sending waste to landfills or to incineration and benefits for services that offer repair.

In recent years, the Environmental Protection Ministry has lost enthusiasm for separating waste at source, despite the fact that this produces the highest quality materials to be recycled or reused.

This follows attempts at source separation that fell below expectations, largely because the ministry did not have the political support or the budget to mount the necessary campaign to educate the public about the importance of recycling.

Gamliel told the environmental organizations on Monday that she wanted to renew links with them and meet with them once a quarter, that she was planning a five-year plan to help with environmental issues in the Arab and Druze sectors, and that she was allocating NIS 5 million ($1.4m.) for environmental education.

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