Municipalities Dumping State’s Trash Separation Plan Like Yesterday’s Garbage

500-million-shekel program to divide 'wet' and 'dry' waste was launched in 2012 but shunned by many big cities.

Trash piling up on a Jerusalem street, January 3, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

A much-fanfared Environmental Protection Ministry program asking households to separate wet and dry waste is itself set to be trashed, after Israel's cities largely shunned the move.

The ministry announced its trash-separation plan back in 2012, but a growing number of municipalities no longer follow the government guidelines due to difficulties in implementation.

Hadera decided to cease the practice last week, while Ashdod already scrapped the program last month – and now the ministry has begun to promote alternatives.

The ministry's program had urged municipalities to sort waste into “wet” waste – organic trash composed mainly of food scraps – to be placed in a brown dumpster, and “dry” waste, which went into ordinary dumpsters. Some councils also have orange dumpsters for packaging, and other special containers for paper and plastic waste.

Hadera's municipality says it conducted an experimental project from 2012-2016 to encourage residents to place organic waste in the brown dumpsters. But the results were disappointing, with just 2 percent of residents following suit. Another issue seen as a factor was that the state wasn't prepared to build a facility for recycling organic waste, so the sorting was perceived as irrelevant.

Hadera Deputy Mayor Hedva Yehezkeli said, “The city is aware there are residents who do sort their waste. We hope that in the coming years a solution will be found for building a facility to which the organic waste can be taken.”

Last month, Ashdod announced it was removing the brown dumpsters and installing orange dumpsters instead. The southern city was one of the most advanced in Israel in terms of using these dumpsters. The municipality says it is following new ministry policy and is transferring the brown dumpsters to industrial zones.

Several other municipalities decided against the waste-sorting program when they saw the project no longer enjoyed the same support from the ministry.

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay has said several times in recent months that the sorting project mostly failed in the big cities. As a result he now supports a different approach, in which the priority would be given to more extensive collection of packaging waste, while the rest (including the “wet” waste) would be transferred to sorting stations from which all recyclable waste could be sent.

The ministry allocated $500 million shekels ($133 million) to the wet-dry waste-sorting project, and some of these funds were already transferred to municipalities.

The goal was to have three million citizens sorting their garbage by 2019. Gabbay said he wouldn’t interfere with local councils that are continuing with the wet-dry sorting, but also that he wouldn't encourage them to use this method.

Some in the Environmental Protection Ministry are skeptical not just of the efficiency of sorting, but also the potential to actually use the sorted wet waste to make compost or produce energy. One argument put forward was that there is currently a surplus of compost and there may not be any demand for compost from urban waste. It was also argued that producing energy from the breakdown of waste is an expensive process compared to other methods of producing electricity.

The ministry recently decided to take measures to lower the fees it charges the municipalities for collecting garbage and transporting it to sorting and recycling stations. The ministry has also decided to introduce a new incentive program in which the councils will earn money based on the quantities of waste they send for recycling.

Shoham Mayor Gil Livne, who also heads the Environmental Protection Committee in the Center for Local Government, doesn't agree that the wet-dry sorting project is a failure. He says decent-sized cities like Kfar Sava and Modi’in are sorting garbage at a high rate. He also says the Center for Local Government is in talks with the ministry to reach an accord whereby the councils would be able to get back some of the fees they currently pay for garbage that's transported to landfills, and to use this money to build better facilities for waste collection and sorting.