Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry Calls for Clampdown on Illegal Burning of Waste

The ministry cites hazardous emissions at some 300 ad-hoc dumps and need for legislation to counter this dangerous phenomenon

Waste in the village of Jadida-Makar.
Gil Eliyahu

Waste is being burned illegally at some 300 sites around Israel, emitting quantities of some pollutants that are even greater than those spewed out by factories and motor vehicles, the Environmental Protection Ministry reports. Without tougher legislation and cooperation from other ministries, it says, there will be no way to curb this dangerous phenomenon.

To that end, ministry director general Yisrael Danziger has approached his counterparts in eight other ministries and asked for their cooperation.

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According to Danziger, all types of garbage is being burned at the sites, including domestic, electronic and agricultural (plastic sheeting and cuttings) waste. The Environmental Protection Ministry says the effluents emitted in tiny particles from such fires can penetrate and damage the respiratory system.

The larger problem involves illegal burning of garbage in open areas in general – mostly in the southwestern part of the Lower Galilee; in the vicinity of the Israeli Arab locales of Kalansua and Taibeh, in the Sharon region; in agricultural communities in the Eshkol Regional Council, in the Negev; and in date-palm plantations in the Jordan Valley. The illegal ad-hoc dumps have sprung up because local authorities do not deal properly with waste, which piles up and is eventually burned by residents.

“We have succeeded in changing the attitude of the Fire and Rescue Services, which often did not respond to these fires because they did not endanger residential areas or property per se, but now they do respond,” notes Danziger.

To help solve the problem, the Finance Ministry has transferred 50 million shekels ($13.5 million), some of which will be used to establish a unit of 14 inspectors whose sole function will be to locate waste that residents will probably end up burning, and to call garbage-removal companies to take it away – if necessary, at the expense of the relevant local authority.

But Danziger warns that this unit will not be able to eliminate the problem of illegal burning of waste over the long term. He believes that it is vital to enact legislation that would impose responsibility for such fires on the owner of the land in question, and which would allow digital tracking of the garbage trucks.

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The Justice Ministry says it is now examining preliminary proposals on the subject from the subcommittee of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee that deals with pollution from waste fires in open areas.

Residents in the West Bank, across the Green Line, also suffer from such pollution, and the problem there is compounded by a lack of budgetary resources. The Coordinator for Government Activity in the Territories said: “The Civil Administration sees great importance in dealing with cross-border environmental hazards in the Judea and Samaria region. Recently a government proposal was formulated with the Environmental Protection Ministry to deal with these hazards.”

The coordinator’s office added, however, that the Civil Administration doesn’t have enough manpower to enforce its authority in many areas, including those dealing with the environment.