Israel's Negev Is Becoming Dumping Grounds for Household Trash

Local regional council expresses concern over enormous environmental damage resulting from waste dumped in open areas from Be'er Sheva, Nazareth and Ashdod

Waste dumped in an open area near Be'er Sheva last week
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Employees of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council in the northern Negev have recently had to develop skills similar to those of policemen from the criminal identification unit. They carefully examine evidence in the field to discover the source of the mounds of household trash thrown into forests and open areas within the council’s jurisdiction.

A few weeks ago, they found a pile of trash near the Motor Park raceway west of Be’er Sheva. They scrutinized the documents and old newspapers in the pile to determine the source of the trash. In one case in recent months, they found trash that had made its way to the Negev all the way from Nazareth. In another, they found trash from the Ashdod region.

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Bnei Shimon, which encompasses some 400,000 dunams near Be’er Sheva, is the Negev regional council closest to the center of the country. It also has a lot of open space, which enables truck drivers to throw trash into forests or streams without fear of being caught.

In fact, drivers working for contractors hired by municipalities to transport household waste to licensed landfills often dump the trash in Bnei Shimon instead, thereby sparing themselves the drive and the landfill fees.

Until recently, truck drivers mainly dumped construction waste in the Negev. But now they’ve begun doing so with household waste as well. At numerous sites in Bnei Shimon, one can see piles of waste that have been left there, which encourage other people to do the same.

“When there’s a pile of trash, people tend to add more piles to it,” said Shirley Hackam Ifrah, the regional council official responsible for environmental issues.

Aside from the fact that dumped trash severely harms hiking and recreation sites like forests, it also damages sites zoned for development. The Regavim organization recently documented large-scale dumping of trash on the northern Negev site where the army’s new intelligence headquarters is supposed to be built. Part of that site is located in Bnei Shimon.

Environmental Inspector Gadi Deborah and Environmental Coordinator of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council  Shirley Hackam Ifrah Collecting findings on the outskirts of Be'er Sheva, last week
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The problem is exacerbated by the poor trash collection infrastructure in local Bedouin communities. Many of these towns don’t have enough garbage bins or an efficient trash collection system, so piles of trash accumulate around them, and some find their way to Bnei Shimon. Often, these trash heaps are burned to get rid of the stench.

The regional council has very limited enforcement powers. It is supposed to be helped by the Environmental Protection Ministry, but catching the criminals isn’t easy. They usually operate at night, and sometimes use lookouts to warn them of approaching vehicles.

The mayor of Bnei Shimon, Nir Zamir, called the issue a "clear violation of the law that damages the quality of life of southern residents.

“The environmental damage is enormous,” he added. In an effort to address this problem, Zamir said that Bnei Shimon and neighboring localities have formed a regional environmental forum to try to come up with solutions.

One step that might help is an initiative by several Negev towns to set up containers for construction waste at building sites. Local contractors would be required to dump their waste there initially, and then to provide proof to the municipalities that it was transferred to a licensed landfill.

Waste in the forest under the Bnei Shimon Council, last week
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Environmental Protection Ministry said it is investigating the accumulation of trash heaps in Bnei Shimon and is “working hard to end this practice.” Its southern district recently set up a special unit within the Israel Parks and Nature Authority that sends inspectors to trash fires through the area to collect information for enforcement purposes, and it’s also working with other relevant agencies to impose “significant punishments on the criminals,” it added.