Half of the Plastic Products Used in Israel Cannot Be Recycled

New plan calls for recycling 40 percent of Israel’s plastic waste, burn another 40 percent for energy, and bury the rest in landfills

Plastic items and glass bottles to be sent abroad for recycling are seen at the Sant'Antnin Waste Treatment Plant, operated by Wasteserv Malta, in Marsascala, Malta February 28, 2019.
\ DARRIN ZAMMIT LUPI/ REUTERS

Israel produces around 1 million tons of plastic waste each year, but only a small percentage of this gets recycled. Half of the plastic products that are used locally are unrecyclable, either because they are made of materials that cannot be recycled or because they contain a combination of types of plastic that cannot be separated.

These figure were in a report released last week by the Environmental Protection Ministry and presented by ministry director general Guy Samet at a workshop on devoted to the handling of plastic waste, held at Tel Aviv University at the initiative of the environmental advocacy organization Zalul. They were gathered as part of research for a ministry plan to tackle plastic waste, a draft version of which should be ready within a few months.

The plan calls for the eventual recycling of up to 40 percent of Israel’s plastic waste. More than another 40 percent is to be turned into an energy source through burning. The remainder — less than 20 percent — will be buried in landfills, the least desirable option from an environmental standpoint.

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The ministry collected data from a number of sources on the production and use of plastic goods, for the first estimate of the amount of plastic waste generated in Israel.

Some plastic beverage bottles in Israel are collected for recycling by means of a deposit scheme introduced in 2001. Other plastic packaging is collected in compliance with a different law. Only a small percentage of Israel’s overall plastic waste reaches recycling facilities, however. Samet noted that there are other significant sources of plastic waste, such as the sheets of plastic that are used to cover some crops, and construction waste. “Plastic sheets are particularly problematic since they disintegrate, with particles capable of reaching the sea,” noted Samet.

Plastic waste has become a worldwide problem, damaging ecosystems and in some cases choking or otherwise harming wild animals.

Several initiatives are under way in Israel to reduce the use of plastic. They include a law, in effect since January 1, 2017, requiring large supermarket chains to charge a nominal fee for one-use plastic bags, that has greatly reduced their use. “Before the law went into effect the average per capita usage was 300 bags a year” says Samet. “This has gone down to 180, and our aim is to reach 70 in the future.”

The Zalul organization and the northern Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya are cooperating on a plan to reduce plastic consumption. The project’s first target is single-use plastic containers in schools and other public institutions. As part of the plan, Zalul and the city examined waste collected on Herzliya’s 7 kilometers (just under 5 miles) of beaches, determining that half of the items were plastic wrappers, bottles and disposable cups and tableware.

Michal Ron Gavish, the CEO of Polycad Israel, described herself at the workshop as a “proud producer of plastic.”

“This is a good material, and our policy is to manufacture it with as many recyclable components as possible. The problem is that there is currently no plant in Israel capable of providing us with raw material.” According to Environmental Protection Ministry, half the goods made in Israel are not made of recyclable materials.