What can be even more frustrating than an environmental hazard is a successful treatment of the hazard, only to arrive at a situation in which the treatment comes under threat and is then eradicated. It is this type of frustration that has lately been experienced by environmental protectionists in Israel because of the shaky status of the Deposit on Beverage Containers Law.
The law has been in existence for three years. A corporation created by the manufacturers and beverage importers collects the containers that were returned by consumers - who receive the deposit payment back - and sends them to recycling plants. The result was a significant decline in the amount of refuse, the expansion of recycling in Israel and a decrease in the amount of land needed for waste. According to the Environment Ministry, before the law was passed there were 20,000 beverage containers in every square kilometer of the coastline. That number has fallen greatly, and most of the containers that remain are of the large variety (1.5 liters or more), to which the law does not apply.
Recently, however, the implementation of the law has reached a critical crossroads. The recycling corporation is having difficulty meeting the collection targets that were set and wants them reduced. The antitrust commissioner, Dror Strum, has begun to review the operation of the corporation and is now saying that it is functioning as a monopoly. In addition, the beverage industry is effectively making extra money at the expense of the consumers, because there is no full collection of the containers and no refund of the deposit on the container, which is paid at the time of purchase. It has also emerged that the public finds it very difficult to find places where the containers can be returned and the deposit refunded.
In the meantime, the Knesset's Economics Committee has refused to approve motions to extend the law. On the contrary, its members have stated that they are considering the possibility of revoking the legislation because of the difficulties it entails. Contradictory opinions about how to resolve the crisis are being heard from every direction, with some experts saying the corporation should be dismantled and others saying the problem does not lie in the corporation.
The clarion call that should be heard today is that it is out of the question to annul the law and that instead it should be strengthened and expanded, so that it will be possible to deal with every beverage container. It will be the height of absurdity if the Knesset repeals, without seeing to an environmental substitute, a law that did away with large amounts of refuse.
Implementation of the proposal to do away with the recycling corporation, without the establishment of other bodies that deal with the evacuation of containers, will bring about the accumulation of refuse in quantities that will be difficult to handle.
The principle that has to underlie the efforts to bolster the law is to make the beverage manufacturers and importers genuinely responsible for collecting the containers. Some of the manufacturers invested efforts in trying to get the law revoked before it was passed or to water it down in every possible way so that it will not impose obligations on them. With the assistance of a powerful and influential lobby, they succeeded in recruiting politicians to back their cause.
The responsibility of the beverage manufacturers and importers will be translated into practicalities only if they are obliged to provide financial and organizational assistance to the body that collects the containers, be it a lone corporation or a number of companies. Under the law, the manufacturers and importers will be obliged to meet the recycling goals, which match the number of containers that each company sells. They will pay fines if they do not work to realize these goals, and this will more than likely heighten their efficiency in regard to collecting containers.
Once a more effective and stable collection mechanism is in place, it will be possible to expand the Deposit Law so that it includes large containers and applies to all businesses, not only large ones. Accordingly, it will be possible to return beverage containers everywhere, thereby providing a solution for all types of waste that originate in containers. This will be advantageous in terms of waste recycling, because the large containers are made of plastic, the price of which has risen in recent years and which is now in great demand.
Public bodies, government ministries and politicians must not recoil in the face of the powerful opposition that will be generated by amendments to the Deposit Law, which will impose responsibility on the beverage manufacturers and importers. Overcoming that opposition will be an important test for the ability to deal with all the environmental problems in Israel. Only if it is possible to oblige strong, high-profit bodies to cooperate with progressive legislation will there be a chance to make Israel a slightly cleaner country.
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