Government Warns That Israel's Landfill Space Is Running Scarce

Environmental Protection Ministry worries the crunch may lead to refuse being dumped illegally nationwide

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Ariel Sharon Park, a converted landfill in Gush Dan.
Ariel Sharon Park, a converted landfill in Gush Dan. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Israel is likely to face a severe shortage of landfill space within a year, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The ministry, which presented this information to the National Planning and Building Council last week, warned that this shortage may well lead to trash being dumped illegally.

It added that is working with the Planning Administration to find additional landfill space.

The ministry’s presentation was part of a discussion by a subcommittee of the national council on a new strategic plan for handling waste. The council has to approve the plan, which the ministry prepared.

According to the ministry’s data, existing landfills will have a severe shortage of space by the middle of next year. The main reason is that the country’s largest dump, the Efaa landfill in the Negev, has almost exhausted its capacity. Once it is full, Israel will be short of space for almost 4,000 tons of trash a day – more than half the trash produced by the Gush Dan region.

But the Ganey Hadas landfill near Be’er Sheva, another of the country’s biggest dumps, is also running short of space and will soon be unable to absorb more trash, according to Tal Fudim, deputy chief planner for the southern district planning board. The vast majority of the country’s trash goes to a few large dumps in the Negev.

Environmental Protection Ministry officials who attended last week’s meeting told the subcommittee they hoped to propose possible solutions in another few weeks, primarily by identifying addition usable space in existing landfills.

Several participants in the discussion voiced concern that a prolonged shortage of landfill space would lead to trash being dumped illegally in open areas.

The delay in developing additional landfill space stems primarily from the protracted planning process. This is partly because such plans are ecologically complex. At Efaa, for instance, oil shale deposits were found in the ground, and burying trash near those deposits could pose risks. At another dump, some of the land was too close to Bedouin communities to be used.

Nevertheless, the ministry and planning officials could also do more to streamline the planning process.

Aside from planning delays, another hindrance to finding additional space is that open land near cities is unusable, due to both public opposition and the fact that it is often needed for other purposes.

The new strategic plan for waste handling that the subcommittee discussed would require households to separate their trash, which would then either be recycled or used for compost. The goal is to increase the proportion of trash that’s recycled from 20 percent today to 54 percent by the end of the decade.

But local government officials told the subcommittee that implementing this plan was likely to be difficult. The biggest problem, they said, is that there’s currently only one facility in Israel that accepts organic waste, so it’s not clear what will happen to the rest of the organic waste that’s separated out.

“Even today, we have trouble finding a site that will accept the organic waste we separate,” said Til Livne, chairman of the Dan Recycling Authority, which is responsible for dealing with trash in the Gush Dan region.

Zichron Yaakov Mayor Ziv Deshe, who heads the Union of Local Authorities’ environmental committee, warned that local governments won’t cooperate with the waste separation plan until additional organic waste facilities are built.

The subcommittee asked the Environmental Protection Ministry to submit an action plan for implementing the new strategy, including a timetable for building the requisite facilities, and to locate suitable land on which they can be built.

“We have no intention of starting to separate waste until we know there are facilities that can absorb it, and we’ll also work to find landfill solutions,” the ministry’s deputy director general for planning, policy and strategy, Galit Cohen, told Haaretz. “Everything will be done in cooperation and coordination with the local authorities.”

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