Bottle Battle Victory

The fact that only the recycling corporation is authorized to transfer bottles to the recycling plants puts it in a position of power, allowing it to avoid confronting the difficult challenge of meeting the collection goals determined by law.

Two important breakthroughs in the expansion of waste recycling were achieved in recent weeks. Last week, the Knesset approved the collection of a fee for interment at waste-disposal sites. Two weeks before that, the cabinet approved, contingent to an examination by a ministerial committee, a proposal for changes in the Deposit Law on Beverage Containers. These changes are likely to lead to a broader and more efficient implementation of bottle collection for the purposes of recycling.

The waste-disposal fee is meant to create a significant incentive to the local authorities to encourage recycling in their jurisdictions, and thus save the higher cost of a disposal fee. The money to be collected by means of the fee will be transferred to a government clean-up fund, which will invest it in assisting the recycling plants.

The idea of the fee originated with professionals in the Ministry of Environmental Protection, who have been trying unsuccessfully for the past eight years to get it approved. The active intervention of Minister Gideon Ezra led to Knesset approval at long last.

When it comes to the deposit law, things are much more complicated. One of the main reasons for this is the functioning of the corporation, which operates by dint of the law, assigned with collecting bottles that have been returned by consumers (in exchange for a deposit of 25 agorot per bottle), and transferring them to recycling plants. This group has lately been concentrating its efforts on lowering the targets set for it and in attempting to prevent the expansion of the law under which it operates.

In recent weeks, the recycling corporation has been involved in repeated attempts to prevent the expansion of the deposit law, by which it would encompass bottles of 1.5 liters and larger. At present, the law requires the collection of a deposit only on smaller beverage bottles.

The corporation was established by the beverage manufacturers, but in effect it operates as a mediating body, preventing the placement of direct responsibility for bottle collection on the manufacturers. The fact that it is the only group authorized to transfer bottles to the recycling plants puts it in a position of power that it knows how to exploit to the fullest, in order to avoid confronting the difficult challenge of meeting the collection goals determined by law.

Fearing that failure to meet the collection goals would require it to pay heavy fines, the corporation has repeatedly tried and in fact succeeded in convincing the Knesset and the Environmental Protection Ministry to reduce the goals set by the law, warning of financial collapse if its requests were not fulfilled. Linor Sagi, an attorney from Adam, Teva V'Din: the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, pointed out that the decision of the Knesset Finance Committee last month to retroactively reduce the goals set for 2006 was accepted without any serious public discussion and without the evidentiary basis required in such cases.

At the same time, the corporation began a public campaign against inclusion of the larger bottles in the law, a step that would have confronted it with additional challenges of collection and transfer for recycling. The corporation played on the stories about the penetration of criminal elements into the bottle-collection industry, and claimed that including larger bottles in the context of the law would increase the income of criminal factors.

The proposed changes in the deposit law could prevent the embarrassing scenario of representatives of the Environmental Protection Ministry asking the Finance Committee year after year to reduce bottle-collection targets, for fear of the collapse of the corporation.

In line with these changes, the bottle manufacturers will be made directly responsible, and will no longer be able to hide behind the corporation. The bottling companies will have to meet the collection goals, or else they will pay fines and will not be able to claim that it is a matter of one corporation that is liable to collapse. In such a situation, we can assume that they will do what is necessary to bring about efficient collection, including improving public access to the places where one can easily, without the intervention of criminal elements, have cash deposits returned. Thus will Israel also benefit from the principle that is accepted in many other places in the world, that those who market products that become waste are responsible for handling the blight they have created, rather than letting all of society suffer the consequences, while they only enjoy the profits.