Israel's Bottle Collection Project Caps a Decade of Recycling Success

Company expects to meet its target of collecting 50 percent of all large beverage containers by the end of the year.

The Ela Beverage Containers Collection Corporation has collected over 5 billion beverage containers since its establishment, and is now meeting its target of collecting 77 percent of small bottles and cans.

Nehama Ronen, the chairwoman of Ela, said the company expects to meet its target of collecting 50 percent of all large beverage containers - those of one and a half liters and larger - by the end of the year. Ela is committed to the 50 percent target in an agreement with the Environmental Protection Ministry. Ronen spoke at an event marking the 10th anniversary of Ela's founding.

The company was established by beverage manufacturers and importers, and operates under the auspices of the Deposit Law, which requires the collection and recycling of all small beverage containers, those smaller than a liter and a half. The law required a deposit on all such containers, which today is 30 agorot per container. In addition to collecting the small containers and paying back the deposits, Ela also collects the large containers for recycling, even though they do not require a deposit.

Ela had a difficult time meeting its collection targets at the beginning, but in recent years has expanded its collection system and extended its cooperation with public institutions and schools. For a while, Ela was faced with various threats and pressure from criminal groups who took control of container collection in various areas, and tried to influence the collection process and collect the money. But now all the companies involved in collecting containers operate legally, said Ronen. "I don't know who is involved in these companies, but there are no longer threats as there were in the beginning," she said.

Ela has significantly increased the number of recycling bins, and now there are 18,000 spread throughout the entire country. This has aided greatly in increasing the collection of the large containers, for which consumers do not get any money back.

Over 50 percent of all beverage containers are recycled in Israel. This is high compared to other countries, said Ronen. In the United States only 29 percent of plastic containers are recycled, while Europe's figures are similar to Israel's. Recycling the containers avoids burying 500,000 tons of aluminum, plastic and glass in landfills every year. The recycling is carried out partly in Israel and partly in other countries such as China, which receives some of the plastic containers.

Future challenges include expanding the separation of garbage into two streams, one wet and the other dry, to expand recycling and prevent pollution. This might lead consumers to throw plastic bottles into the regular garbage, and the large bottles could be separated out later, though this would require much more work.

"We will need to explain to people that in the future they will still have to bring the large bottles to the recycling bins," said Ronen. Another problem is finding ways to recycle all the glass waste Ela now collects. It is looking for new ways to make use of the recycled glass, such using it for paving roads. But the biggest threat to recycling is external: China may stop accepting plastic for recycling and may start dealing with its own waste properly first. This could destroy the entire recycling industry, said Ronen.