A sorting and recycling facility for construction waste near Shoham - Tomer Appelbaum
A sorting and recycling facility for construction waste near Shoham. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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The amount of construction waste reaching legal dumping sites has dropped by almost 50 percent in recent months, say the dumps' operators.

The illegal dumping of construction waste is arguably Israel's most widespread environmental nuisance.

But the Environmental Protection Ministry has fewer than 40 inspectors, and of these, very few deal exclusively with construction waste.

"[Illegal dumpers] pollute the environment, and then it has to be rehabilitated at the taxpayer's expense," said Yigdal Ach, who runs a sorting and recycling facility for construction waste near Shoham. "They don't pay the special fee the state collects at the entrance to the dumps, and they certainly don't report their income. The state's investment in enforcement is not proportionate to the damage caused by [illegal] waste dumping."

This situation prompted the establishment last week of a new Knesset caucus to promote the recycling of such waste, headed by MK Raleb Majadele (Labor).

Legal dump operators are convinced that senior ministry officials, including Minister Gilad Erdan, are not taking the issue seriously enough.

While Erdan did set up a committee that is supposed to propose ways to improve the situation, dump operators say the panel is merely holding discussions rather than taking practical steps to solve the problem.

Every year, Israel produces some four millions tons of construction waste, but only one fifth of it goes to legal dumps. The rest is dumped in open areas, usually in the West Bank. Not only does this create an eyesore, but construction waste contains a long list of poisonous materials - often including asbestos - that can contaminate groundwater.

Mustafa Tahiri, co-owner of a legal dump that opened recently near Kibbutz Naan, said: "It took us several years to plan the site and meet all the requirements, including sealing off the land to prevent pollution.

"To be economically viable, we need to get 1,000 tons of waste to bury every day, but in practice we usually get 250 to 300 tons," said Tahiri, whose company also operates several other dumps.

Old-fashioned ambush

Ministry inspectors do occasionally catch illegal dumpers, using various high-tech tracking methods as well as old-fashioned ambushes, but this is a drop in the ocean.

Various estimates put the economic damage to the state as a result of illegal dumping at almost NIS 300 million a year.

Moreover, even when waste is brought to recycling facilities, it's hard for recycling firms to find buyers, because the building codes currently allow recycled waste to be used for only a small number of purposes - so piles of unused waste often accumulate.

Yet another problem is that a cabinet decision requiring government companies to derive at least a fifth of their raw construction material from recycled waste has never been enforced. Legal dump operators petitioned the High Court of Justice against this failure, but their petition was rejected.

Also, recycling facilities have not received the financial aid they were promised by the government, because the ministry accepted no aid applications this year.

The ministry responded that the Green Police work hard to catch illegal dumpers: Just last week, for instance, they caught four trucks dumping waste illegally. It also said it is trying to increase demand for recycled waste in various ways, such as drafting regulations to expand the list of permitted uses for such material and working on a cabinet resolution to require local authorities to use more recycled waste.

In addition, it said, it has so far given NIS 20 million in aid to recycling facilities, and plans to accept applications for another NIS 20 million in aid next year.