A Blight on the Countryside

The scale of the problem can be seen in the endless piles of refuse that lie on the sides of the country's highways.

There are many phenomena that symbolize disdain for environmental protection. In Israel, the phenomenon that has perhaps come to symbolize this more than any other in recent years is the illegal dumping of refuse from construction sites. So rampant has this become that the government last year approved a special decision to deal with the subject. Since then a year and a half has gone by and the refuse continues to pile up.

According to Environment Ministry estimates, about 7.5 million tons of construction waste is produced every year - 140 percent more than the amount of home refuse. At present, only 31 percent of this total finds its way to organized refuse sites. The rest can be seen in open spaces and on the edges of cities, in the sand dunes along the coast, and in the heart of groves and forests. This is not only an aesthetic blight, it constitutes serious environmental pollution. Construction refuse contains a rich variety of toxic matter that pollutes the earth and groundwater.

The government's decision stipulated the allocation of human and financial resources to deal with the problem by means of effective law enforcement. Another essential measure is to accelerate the planning and establishment of orderly sites to bury waste without creating environmental hazards. The decision stated that the treatment of waste would be arranged within three years, for which the countdown would begin no later than the end of 2005.

In practice, almost nothing has been done since then. The Environment Ministry is finding it extremely difficult to obtain additional personnel. There is no professional unit in the ministry that deals solely with the problem of construction refuse, as the government decision stipulated. Planning procedures move slowly and to date almost no new sites have been created for dumping waste. The main beneficiaries of the situation are the contractors, who don't have to pay for burying the waste at organized sites but simply dump it in the nearest field. Local governments also benefit, because they do not have to operate a system that will monitor and supervise the handling of refuse and provide transit stations for its removal.

The local governments and the Israel Lands Administration collect all the taxes and license fees from contractors, but do nothing to reduce one of the most serious environmental hazards in Israel. Similarly, large construction companies, which employ subcontractors to handle the refuse, do not examine where they dump it, whereas they have far more rigorous processes of control and follow-up in regard to the construction work itself.

The scale of the problem can be seen in the endless piles of refuse that lie on the sides of the country's highways. Two weeks ago, along the Trans-Israel Highway, a truck was spotted dumping a large amount of construction waste. The driver never even imagined the possibility that an inspector or a policeman might show up and make him sorry for dirtying the environment.

In the cabinet discussions about environmental problems, the prime minister and the other ministers showed special interest in cleanliness in the public sphere and complained bitterly that Israel is a dirty country. Do they expect the Environment Ministry to cope with this problem by means of managers to handle construction waste who were chosen by Tzachi Hanegbi, the former minister, on the basis of their political connections?

The time has come for the implementation of the government decision stating that more inspectors will be added to the Environment Ministry's Green Police and that the unit will operate in shifts around the clock to deal with the problem of the illegal dumping of construction waste.

In addition to the irresponsibility being shown by the government at all levels, the phenomenon exposes a large-scale public problem that involves people from various sectors throughout the country. In many places, private individuals dump waste without any consideration for others and sometimes even for themselves, as the waste accumulates close to their home. The heaps of waste are sad testimony to the fact that many Israelis have yet to internalize the importance of maintaining cleanliness not only at home but also in the public sphere. In the past, educational activity succeeded in persuading Israelis not to pick protected wildflowers. Until now, though, no slogan or explanatory campaign has been able to convince them not to renovate their home at the expense of the countryside.