Workers at Olivebar
Workers at Olivebar in the West Bank. Owners are considering relocating to avoid EU taxes on products from the territories. Photo by Emil Salman
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A factory set up recently near the West Bank settlement of Nokdim is offering an innovative method of "green" heating: compressed olive-waste logs for the fireplace.

The company, Olivebar, trawls olive presses for pellets and skins left after the production of olive oil. Avi Lorber, one of the owners, told Haaretz that about 60,000-70,000 tons of this material is produced in Israel annually. Although it is meant to be sent to landfills, it is often discarded in open grounds, becoming a pollutant.

"We chose a desert area because we can dry the waste in the hot open air, without wasting energy on drying machines," said Lorber.

Lorber has developed a process for turning the waste into compressed logs by mixing it with different materials. The ashes from the logs can be reused as fertilizer, and if the trend catches on, he said, it might stop people from cutting down olive trees for firewood, a practice that has become popular because of rising oil prices.

Olive waste recycling has yet to be officially recognized as an environmental practice, and the Environmental Protection Ministry has still not set the bar for pollutants produced by burning olive waste material for heating. Olivebar did, however, conduct a private test at the Spectrolab laboratory and found that the oil waste does not produce toxic gases when burned.

An official from the ministry told Haaretz that it does not prohibit heating houses with olive waste bars, so long as the houses have a permit for wood heating. He also said the bars were one solution for treating olive press waste.

The factory is currently marketing its produce to private customers at fuel stations but hopes to begin exporting to Europe where the wood heating market is much larger. Lorber told Haaretz, however, that this may present a challenge: When he investigated the possibility of exporting to Austria, he found his products would be taxed extra there because the factory is located beyond the Green Line. He said that the owners are now considering relocating to the Negev, within Israel proper, and have already began negotiating with two agricultural communities to set up the factory on their lands.