In Israel, Construction Waste Demands Constructive Solutions

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Construction waste dumped near Rishon Letzion, 2011.
Construction waste dumped near Rishon Letzion, 2011.Credit: David Bachar

The Environmental Protection Ministry's newly completed work plan focuses on improving air quality in the Haifa Bay area, rehabilitating tainted soil and developing "green" construction. The plan will pay attention particularly to reducing vehicular air pollution and lowering the cost of waste treatment in outlying areas.

These are worthy targets, but if Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay is really concerned about public health and the elimination of environmental hazards, he should devote some serious attention to construction waste. This topic is of no interest to the public and is almost impossible to market in the media, especially not in comparison to the natural gas controversy or Haifa air quality. However, this is the most common hazard in Israel. It should be noted that the Ministry has professionals who are eager to tackle the problem, and they urgently need ministerial support.

Handling this waste requires appropriate infrastructure, with facilities for removal, recycling and burial of waste. Enforcement is essential in order to prevent illegal dumping. A market for recycled products is also required. All these stages are interdependent. There is no point in effective enforcement if there are no alternative legal waste disposal sites. These will not be viable if no one will purchase recycled waste or if violators continue dumping in unauthorized locations.

The path to enforcement and the creation of a market for recycled products is full of difficulties, including lack of implementation of the government decision that state-owned companies should give priority to recycled products. It previously seemed that the creation of an infrastructure was making some headway, but this has slipped as of late. The Barkat site for waste treatment, which received one third of legally disposed construction waste in the country, was closed in recent weeks. Another recycling site at Hiriya, which served as a conduit for sending construction waste for burial and recycling, was also shut down.

These closures indicate the lack of long-term planning for waste collection and recycling. At Barkat, the state still cannot come to an agreement with private developers about additional areas for waste collection. With no guaranteed space, the site’s operators cannot invest in future plans.

The Hiriya site’s fate was absurd. The recycling facility was first moved from another location to a temporary site. The operator had to shut it down due to the lack of a business permit. It is now destined to move to another temporary site, but the Dan health association which operates that site is haggling over very high leasing fees, which is holding up the move. In the absence of a resolution, a new site for treating household waste is also on hold, since its opening depends on the operation of the construction waste conduit site.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has commented that it is “working to restore these facilities to an operational mode and our intervention has led to the re-opening of the Barkat facility. The backdrop for the closures was a dispute between the sites’ managers and the Israel Land Authority, the Shoham local authority and Tel Aviv area authorities that give out business permits. There are currently seven terminal facilities for waste treatment which provide high-quality solutions for the amount of waste produced in the area.”

Haaretz was contacted this week by the owner of a waste-removal business in the Tel Aviv area who, until recently, was one of the biggest transgressors, dumping waste in unauthorized locations. He said that he was fed up with repeatedly being summoned to court and paying fines, but with the closure of several facilities in the area, he has no other outlets.

One reason that people dealing with construction waste get no political or bureaucratic help is the fact that this problem is out of sight and carries no scent. The waste has no offensive smell and doesn’t exude toxic gases. It’s hidden in fields and between trees. However, this is a growing hazard which slowly but consistently poisons the soil, destroying areas which could remain green and be used for leisure activities.

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