As Plastic Piles Up, New Israeli Recycling Plant Faces Several Hurdles

Charging deposit on 1.5-liter plastic bottles, better facilities for separating waste needed to ensure plants’ success

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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An Aviv Recycling Industries factory in Neot Hovav that recycled bottles made of plastic.
An Aviv Recycling Industries factory in Neot Hovav that recycled bottles made of plastic.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The volume of recycled plastic in Israel is about to expand significantly, following the expected launching of two new factories whose final product can be used for producing bottles from the recycled material.

The success of this venture depends partly on the implementation of a law requiring deposits on beverage containers with a volume of 1.5 liters, in addition to smaller bottles, as was the case up to now. This law takes effect in a few months. A further requirement for success is an improvement in the ability to sort out waste.

An operation run by Aviv Recycling Industries in Neot Hovav, located in the Negev, was closed down two years ago. It was the only one to recycle beverage containers made of plastic. Aviv is now completing, together with the Shalem Group (the largest manufacturer of plastic packaging in Israel), the construction of a new factory in the same location. It will take in beverage containers and turn them into flakes, which will be used for making new bottles.

Yaron Mizrahi of Aviv says that the factory will have a system for separating waste. After sorting, the plastic will go through several phases of washing, followed by shredding it into flakes. Mizrahi presented the plan at a professional workshop on packaging, held by the Building Materials and Consumer Goods Industries Association.

A factory built by Green Pet Recycling was launched a few weeks ago at the Kidmat Galil industrial park in the lower Galilee, and is already partly operational. At full capacity, it will take in beverage and cleaning material containers and convert them into flakes that will be used for manufacturing new containers. “This factory can handle all kinds of plastic. It will receive raw material from diverse sources, handling 2,000 tons a month,” notes Zohar Levy, Green Pet’s CEO.

The global recycling industry is encountering many difficulties due to price competition with products that are based on raw materials such as petroleum, which are not recycled. Petroleum is the raw material for the plastic industry. A drop in oil prices leads to a drop in the price of unrecycled plastic products, making it harder for recycled products to compete.

A few recent developments have increased the profitability of developing local recycling industries. One of these is the difficulty of finding a target for exporting waste intended for recycling. Countries that used to take in such waste, mainly China, refuse to continue doing so due to the low quality of the waste or because the waste never reaches the intended destination.

A Greenpeace report last month describes a test performed by its members in Turkey, in which they followed waste that had come from Britain and was designated for recycling. Greenpeace found many items from this waste which had found their ways into landfills or were burned, creating air pollution. The report caused Turkey’s government to consider limiting the amount of waste coming from Britain to Turkey. These restrictions may be expanded to other countries as well in the future.

A further limit on exporting waste was created by a decision to add plastic to a list of waste products that come under the monitoring devised by the Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to reduce the movement of hazardous waste between countries. The treaty took effect this year. The significance of this decision, taken based on the position of signatory countries, is an increased monitoring of the trade in waste, whenever, despite the waste having been sorted, it is still suffused with pollutants from other, lower quality sources.

Until recently, Turkey was a desirable destination for Israel’s exporting of waste that had been sorted. One of the players involved in exporting waste was the ELA Corporation, which is responsible for collecting beverage containers, as part of the implementation of the law on bottle deposits. The corporation says that currently, only a limited amount of waste goes to Turkey, and that it prefers to find solutions in Israel.

The Tamir Packaging Recycling Corporation does not export waste to Turkey. The corporation has found local solutions for recycling waste, and will rely on the newly opened factories in the future. According to the Ministry of Economy and Industry, “due to changes and updates in the Basel Convention, Israel will start to oversee the import and export of mixed plastic. Export licences will only be granted after ensuring that the country receiving the mixed waste is a member of the OECD and has expressed its consent to receive such shipments,” said ministry officials.

Besides the decreased availability of destinations for exporting waste and the low number of facilities for sorting and recycling, another significant factor that encourages the building of recycling plants is the policy of large food and beverage manufacturers around the world, as well as companies making personal grooming products, regarding the use of recycled ingredients in their products.

Osem-Nestle, for example, presented its targets in Israel a few weeks ago. One target is that by 2025, 50 percent of all the company’s packaging will be made from materials that are recyclable or reusable. By that year, beverage bottles and bubble wrapping used for packaging some of the company’s products will be made from recycled material. The company also intends to conduct an experiment in recycling different types of plastic, which currently cannot be handled in Israel. This will be done in collaboration with Clariter, a clean-tech innovation company. The company develops recycling technology which includes chemical processes which break down the waste.

The Jafora Tabori beverage company is one of the partners in Green Pet. “Food and beverage companies have an interest in having recycling companies around, because this helps them reach legislated targets for the collection and recycling of beverage containers,” notes Levy.

One difficulty encountered by entrepreneurs wishing to develop plants for waste sorting and recycling is the absence of a government policy supporting recycling facilities. The lack of government support for recycling is also expressed in the refraining of taxing products that do not contain recycled materials. Several European countries already have such a tax. Yuval Lester, head of the environmental policy division at the Environmental Protection Ministry, says that imposing such a tax is being discussed, but no decision has been made yet.

Another failure is the policy of waste sorting in Israel. In contrast to many countries around the world, Israel does not yet enable an effective separation of plastic waste from food waste. This makes it difficult to conduct pre-recycling sorting. The Environmental Protection Ministry wishes to expand the separation of waste into dry and wet products (food waste), but is encountering opposition among local authorities, which want the sorting to be done in centralized facilities.

One government initiative which could assist the efforts to augment the volume of recycling is the expansion of the “deposit law,” which takes effect later this year. “This will greatly increase the quality of sorting and recycling in terms of the final product (in order to make high-quality flakes, waste has to be pre-sorted, so that it doesn’t absorb pollution from other types of waste),” says Mizrahi. Last week, the ministry announced a transfer of 100 million shekels ($31 million) to local authorities. The money comes from a cleanup fund it manages, and will finance the purchase of automatic machines which will take bottles in exchange for a return of the deposit made when purchasing them.

“We’re not interfering in the operations of private facilities, but we need to create market conditions that will allow them to operate,” says Elad Amichai, senior deputy director-general for local authorities at the Environmental Protection Ministry. “The expansion of the deposit law is the way we can ensure conditions allowing the correct operation of this market, significantly enhancing the number of bottles available for recycling,” he says.

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