Environmental Officials Fear State Will Reroute Money From Waste Recycling

Backers of green projects say the central government might impede the country’s nascent recycling programs.

A sorting and recycling facility for construction waste near Shoham.
Tomer Appelbaum

Officials at local authorities and in the Environmental Protection Ministry fear that budget shuffling envisioned by the Finance Ministry will severely hamper Israel’s waste-recycling efforts.

In recent years, environmentalists have seen waste recycling as a key measure in protecting the environment, but the Finance Ministry has proposed a bill that would transfer half the funds allocated for waste recycling to the state. In exchange, the state would return an identical sum for recycling in the future.

The Finance Ministry says a surplus of around 1 billion shekels ($274 million) has accumulated in Israel’s Maintenance of Cleanliness Fund, which is run by the Environmental Protection Ministry. Another 400 million shekels is due to be added  next year.

The fund represents a significant income source for the ministry, which uses the money solely for environmental purposes. In recent years, the fund has expanded due to taxes collected from landfills at around 120 shekels per ton of waste.

Over the past three years, the fund has helped finance projects to sort and separate waste in local authorities. Some of the money has been used to build recycling facilities.

But the country’s recycling projects are in their early stages, and large sums will be required to complete them over the next few years. For example, the Environmental Protection Ministry plans to set up a large waste-treatment and energy-production facility in the greater Tel Aviv area.

Ashdod and Jerusalem are also moving ahead with plans to build large waste-sorting facilities, and many other cities intend to expand waste-treatment by separating various types of garbage. This requires an expansion of the waste-collection infrastructure.

An official at the Environmental Protection Ministry said Thursday he feared that the treasury’s plans would hinder the recycling projects.

“This move robs money that was paid by residents to handle local authorities’ waste,” said Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Doron Sapir, head of the recycling authority for the greater Tel Aviv area.

“The cut is actually a kind of tax imposed on the residents, because their money is now being used to serve the overall state budget, not the original goal.”

For its part, the Finance Ministry said the planned legislation was “merely a technical change in the fund’s budgeting and will not affect its activities.”

According to the ministry, “In recent years a large cash surplus has accumulated in the fund and has been passed on from one year to the next. As for development funds, which continue for many years, it is customary to guarantee the funds, as this enables the ministry to pledge money for the long term.”

Sapir rejected this reading of the situation. “The Cleanliness Fund allocated cash for waste treatment,” he said. “The treasury’s guarantee of funds is not the same. I’m sure the money will not be used for environmental goals.”