Dangerous waste materials that accumulate in households due to the use of various products constitute an environmental hazard that is almost totally overlooked, according to a report compiled by the government company for environmental services that operates the Ramat Hovav waste disposal site and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V'Din ).
The report recommends legislation for treating the tens of thousands of tons of dangerous household waste.
A large variety of household products contain dangerous substances such as acids, fertilizers and toxic metals. These products are usually found in detergents, leftover medicines, paints and solvents, batteries and light bulbs.
The report estimates the dangerous household waste accumulation at 38,000-88,000 tons a year. However, the accurate quantity is difficult to assess because unlike dangerous industrial waste, which is collected separately and transfered to Ramat Hovav, household waste is mixed with other waste and taken to garbage-disposal dumps or flushed into the sewerage system.
"Every contact of these substances with the environment is problematic," says Gilad Ostrovsky of the IUED, one of the report's composers. "There's also the matter of the consumer culture that generates large amounts of waste."
The most hazardous substances in household waste include medicine remains, which pollute water sources, and mercury, a toxic metal emitted by some of the energy-saving fluorescent bulbs that have become compulsory as of this month.
Today this dangerous waste is not managed at all and no legislation requires such management. Out of an estimated 2,000 tons of batteries sold annually, only 150 tons are delivered to Ramat Hovav, the report says. Likewise, only a fraction of the fluorescent bulbs are collected. Only one local authority - the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council - collects dangerous household waste in special containers and transfers them to Ramat Hovav.
Dangerous household waste management has advanced significantly in Europe and North America in recent years. In Canada some manufacturers are required to collect waste. Many European and American cities have built facilities to collect this waste and take it for recycling or bury it safely. Some countries offer financial incentives to local authorities that collect dangerous household waste.
The report recommends obliging pharmacies to collect used medicines and legislation requiring the collection of batteries and other electronic waste.
"We suggest holding manufacturers and importers responsible for waste management," says Ostrovsky. "They should allocate money for a fund that can finance collection installations and waste management."
The Environmental Protection Ministry said "local authorities will be required to collect the waste and have it properly treated. The ministry is advancing legislation to manage electronic waste that will address this issue as well."
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