The Hiriya garbage dump
The Hiriya garbage dump outside of Tel Aviv. Photo by Yuval Tebol
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The quantity of garbage produced in Israel grew by 15 percent over the past decade, and about 10 percent of drillings for wells had to be shut down due to pollution during the same period.

These are two of the main findings on the country's environmental performance in a report released yesterday by visiting representatives of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The report also had some good news about Israel's progress on several major environmental issues, including efficient use of water, and taxes on environmental hazards that are among the highest in the OECD.

It also noted Israel's success in reducing air pollution thanks to a transition to cleaner fuels.

Nevertheless, pollution is still higher than in most of the organization's other members, and also exceeds World Health Organization recommendations.

The vast majority of Israeli garbage is sent to dumps rather than being recycled or reused, the report said. Although the government has a plan to change the situation, it is only in the preliminary stages of implementation.

Moreover, while the country has set aside a sizable proportion of its territory for national parks and nature reserves, none of them is large enough to protect entire ecosystems, the report said.

Nor did the situation of Israel's natural coastline and streams get high marks, though there has been some success in rehabilitating polluted streams.

The report, a product of the periodic inspections all OECD members undergo, contained high praise for Israel's efficient use of recycled water for irrigation and its advanced irrigation methods.

Other OECD countries want to know how Israel does it, said one of the visiting officials, Brendan Gillespie, who heads the group's environmental performance division.

Since Israel established its Water Authority four years ago, it has managed water usage more efficiently. Nonetheless, Israel still faces problems in preventing water pollution, the report said.

On the subject of desalination, the OECD report card credited Israel with impressive accomplishments in efficient operation of desalination plants, but said the process still has negative environmental consequences due to the energy its expends and the byproducts that are discharged into the sea.

The government has increased spending on environmental protection by 35 percent over the past decade, but that still represents less than one percent of the country's gross domestic product.

The Environmental Protection Ministry's budget is 0.01 percent of the overall state budget, which is a lower proportion than in most other OECD countries.

Green police not effective

The ministry's major enforcement arm, the Green Police, provides only a superficial level of oversight, while most Israeli businesses do not submit reports on their handling of environmental hazards, the report added.

In recent years, Israel has increased its use of taxation to reduce polluting activities.

This includes levies on burying garbage in an effort to encourage recycling.

The report recommended that additional tax provisions be considered, including an increase in the number of highways where tolls are charged.

The organization also recommended congestion charges for motorists entering large cities and the elimination of employer-paid car maintenance allowances, in an effort to encourage the use of public transportation.

Finally, it suggested that a carbon tax be levied to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, and that cities include a higher charge for trash removal in municipal tax bills.

The OECD is a grouping of the world's most developed economies. Israel was admitted last year.