The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday approved a government-sponsored bill mandating that electronic scrap be recycled, paving the way for a Knesset vote on the issue.
The bill joins several others on recycling packaging, tires and soft-drink bottles, as well as regulations to separate organic waste (food remnants), which are to be passed shortly.
The Environmental Protection Ministry sees these bills as an environmental revolution, but local government officials warn that the moves are improperly funded, and may require hikes in municipal taxes to pay for them.
The bill approved on Sunday states that within five years, manufacturers and importers of electronic equipment will have to collect and recycle 40 percent of the weight of the electronic equipment they have sold or imported per year. The government-sponsored bill is to be unified with another bill on recycling electronic waste, presented by MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz). That bill, which Horowitz initiated together with the Union for Environmental Defense, would allow consumers to return products to the stores where they bought them, and the stores would then send them to be recycled.
There are only a few industries in Israel that currently collect and recycle electronic scrap. One such company is located at Kibbutz Yasur and employs people with special needs who turn the materials into usable products.
Another is Zohar Recycling Industries in Acre. “We take in thousands of tons of refuse containing products like computers or military communications equipment,” Arthur Hirschfeld, a company director, said yesterday, adding that the company then extracts metals such as gold, copper and aluminum and sells them to factories in Israel or abroad.
The business is “definitely profitable,” Hirschfeld said.
According to the Union for Environmental Defense, Israel produces about 100,000 tons of electronic scrap per year. The toxic metals in the scrap constitute an environmental hazard, but most of them can be recycled, the group says.
Gilad Ostrovsky, of the Union for Environmental Defense, says: “The law requires importers and manufacturers to reach a collection quota and therefore they will be willing to pay more to the recycling company. We see that such moves have already influenced the big companies, which are now making equipment that can be dismantled for recycling.”
According to the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Tal Shohat, rather than consumers putting electronic scrap in collection bins like other recyclable materials, they will bring them to centers or back to the store where they bought them.
“We support these moves and understand them, but we are very concerned that this has happened too quickly and local authorities will not be able to manage,” Shlomo Dolberg, director general of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel, said Sunday, referring to the cost of building the necessary infrastructure.
Dolberg points out as an example the bill for recycling packaging, which, he says, places greater financial responsibility on the local authorities than on the industries. He says that local authorities fear they will have to raise municipal taxes to paytheir share.
The Union of Local Authorities says that the bill mandating the separation of organic waste would require a collection and separation system that would cost almost NIS 1 billion. The agency says the money the Environmental Protection Ministry is contributing toward the cost is not enough.
According to Dolberg, the Environmental Protection Ministry is trying to achieve in a few years what it took Europe a decade to accomplish, and that more long-term and comprehensive planning is required.
The Environmental Protection Ministry says it is planning a number of moves that will help local authorities deal with recycling. More than NIS 300 million have been given to 31 local authorities recently to separate dry and wet waste. Funding was also provided to plan and built recycling facilities for the separated waste.
“We’ve given quite a long time for getting organized, about 10 years, for separating and treating organic waste. Local authorities very much wanted to get in on the process and we had to reject some requests,” Shohat said, adding that the project would be started in major population centers.
Naama Ashur, head of the waste department the Environmental Protection Ministry, said she understands the concerns of the local authorities, but adds:
"They will really have to undergo a change, and instead of depending on one contractor for all garbage removal, they will have to separate it. But that will require them to streamline and in the end it might not cost more. One thing is for sure − we can’t remain where we are today.”
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