Israel Failing to Implement Garbage Separation Plans, Watchdog Claims

Fees paid by local authorities toward cleanup fund ending up in landfill owners’ coffers, says state comptroller’s report.

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A garbage dump in Israel.
A garbage dump in Israel.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Despite investment of hundreds of millions of shekels, the Environmental Protection Ministry and local authorities have failed to implement the separation of household garbage for recycling, according to a state comptroller’s report released Tuesday.

The ministry and local government have worked in recent years to establish the infrastructure for separation of garbage into its wet and dry components so that most of it could be recycled for energy rather than sent to landfills.

But according to the report, no real progress has been made over the past six years in reducing the amount of garbage that goes to landfills. Three out of four cities checked by the state comptroller – Ramat Hasharon, Hadera and Ashkelon, dropped out of the project.

According to the report, the decision-making process on alternatives for separating the garbage was faulty. The Environmental Protection Ministry did not check the feasibility of implementation and how the Finance Ministry and operators of garbage treatment sites would respond to it. At a later stage, when the ministry did check the costs of separating household garbage at the household level as opposed to separating it at large centers, it emerged that separation at the household level only begins to be worthwhile if the value of the land used for the landfill is greater than 6.8 million shekels ($1.76 million). However, value of land in those areas is in fact much lower. Moreover, the ministry never discussed the results of the assessment it had commissioned.

A more significant problem was a lack of equipment where the wet garbage was to be sent at facilities to produce energy. As of the beginning of 2016, there were only four such facilities. As a result, the cities had nowhere to send their wet household garbage, which was instead sent to landfills. The landfills, according to the comptroller’s report, were operated without proper supervision of the fees they charged, so cities were paying high prices to bury garbage in landfills that should have been sent for recycling.

The ministry did not properly oversee the payment of the tax the cities are charged per ton of garbage they send to landfills. That tax is to be transferred by the operators of the landfills to a fund for cleaning up litter and to pay for various activities like separation and recycling. As a result, hundreds of millions of shekels paid by municipalities apparently ended up in the pockets of landfill operators rather than in the cleanup fund.

The Environmental Protection Ministry responded that it was taking the report very seriously, although it disputed some of the findings. Now that a new minister was in charge, there would be “discussions on treatment of garbage to learn from the experience of these years, and reorganize if it is decided to do so,” the ministry said.

The ministry added that while there were difficulties applying the program in many cities, in many others it was successful. “The ministry is working to reduce landfill in a variety of ways, including construction of energy-production facilities, upgrading garbage infrastructure in poorer communities, encouraging separation at source of packaging and reducing landfill by financial incentives.”