A Greener, Cleaner Tel Aviv? True, but There's No Need to Exaggerate

Tel Aviv residents were recently informed in a letter that came with their municipal tax bill that they are living in a greener, cleaner city where recycling and environmental values have increased.

But a Haaretz probe reveals that in some cases these achievements are partial or have not yet been implemented.

The municipality says the number of days that air pollution exceeded permitted levels fell 40 percent from 2003 to 2008. The authorities chalk that up to the move to operate the Reading Power Station on natural gas, the removal from the city of the wholesale market, the lowering of the number of delivery trucks, pollution controls on garbage trucks, and the banning from the city center of extra-long buses, which are more polluting.

However, according to figures from the Environmental Protection Ministry, concentrations of damaging nitrogen oxide and particle pollution have remained high in recent years in Tel Aviv and the surrounding region. Nitrogen oxide exceeded allowable levels on more than 50 days during January and February this year, the ministry says.

The city is now promoting huge underground parking areas in Tel Aviv's Kirya area and at the Habima Theater. It is also promoting new main roads, which will increase air pollution as little progress is made on the city's planned light-rail system.

The city has been talking for years about keeping polluting vehicles out of the city center. But the municipality said in a statement that the pilot project will not begin until early 2011. "The municipality has approached the Environmental Protection Ministry to start the pilot, but it still needs final approval as well as approval from other ministries," the statement said.

The municipality proudly presents various recycling projects, including additional containers to collect plastic bottles and paper, which led to a 100-percent increase in the collection of bottles last year.

However, the municipality says the collection rate in Tel Aviv stands at only 13 percent, much lower than progressive cities around the world. Meanwhile, all other bottles are being sent to landfill in the Negev.

The municipality says it is working on an experimental project to separate and recycle garbage in the neighborhoods of Kiryat Shalom and Ramat Aviv Gimel.

The municipality also says it is promoting energy-saving construction in public buildings with the help of the sun's rays, natural breezes and insulation materials.

But architect David Knafu says the city is continuing to build and approve energy-wasting buildings - "towers in which everything operates on wasteful electricity. It's true that these towers conserve land, but because of their energy consumption, their general environmental impact is negative."

The city says it has 50 percent more green spaces over the past decade, including a park on the Old Jaffa slopes and the beachside promenade in the Reading area.

The head of society and community at the Tel Aviv branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Guy Gardi, concedes that there are more green areas. But he notes that "their planning is identical and they do not relate to heritage or local plant life."