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The Emek Hefer regional council is set to become the first in Israel to separate its waste and convert some of it into biogas, which will then be used to produce electricity.

While the process would be an environmental breakthrough, the conversion facility itself may cause pollution, unless monitored.

Over the last several weeks the council began running a pilot program, in which three communities in the valley - which is situated in the center of the country - started separating their wet and dry waste.

The dry waste is sent to recycling facilities, while the wet waste - mostly leftover food - is sent to a local plant already treating liquids produced by the Emek Hefer dairies.

There, both household and dairy waste is converted into biogas, then used to produced electricity.

"We've set up a small experimental converter inside the main biogas facility, to treat the organic waste from the three communities, and we're looking to see how this affects the operation of the entire facility," said Rani Eidan, head of the regional council.

"We intend to expand the separation of waste to all of the communities in the council, with their 41,000 residents. We'll be able to recycle most of the waste or use it to produce energy, saving the money we spend today on landfills," he said.

Carefully watching the water

Once the facility is operating at full capacity, the waste collected from Emek Hefer households will increase the biogas converter's electricity output from its current level of 4 megawatts.

"We take in some 600 tons of liquid and waste from the dairies," said a director of the converting facility, Shay Levi.

"Besides gas, the converter also produces water that is not fit for use in irrigation or fertilization, which we call filtrated water. [For the time being,] this water is being spilled out over open fields, with the Environmental Protection Ministry's permission," he said.

The filtrated water, however, has a high percentage of salt, and may seep down into the groundwater and salinate it.

The Environmental Protection Ministry told Haaretz that, going forward, the facility will be asked to cut back on the amount of filtrated water it releases into the fields.

The company operating the waste conversion facility said the converter treats all liquids from all dairies in the regional council, and perhaps dairy farmers will be asked to reduce the amount of liquid sent to the facility.

As for the effects of the filtrated water, the company stressed that it was partway through its learning process and that it would abide by any instructions issued by the Environmental Protection Ministry.