Israel Lags in Recycling and Renewable Energy

Israel near bottom of OECD recycling and renewable energy rankings; has largest per capita public water usage.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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A landfill near Tel Aviv.
A landfill near Tel Aviv.Credit: Kobi Kalmanovitz
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Israel ranks near last among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the grouping of the world’s developed countries, in terms of garbage recycling and renewable energy use. The rankings appear in a recent report on how OECD member countries score on environmental practices.

The data, from 2012, show that 18 percent of refuse in Israel is recycled, while everything else is buried. Israel is in last-but-one place, just above Mexico, where the recycling rate is 5 percent. Top marks go to Sweden and Switzerland, which have nearly no garbage to bury in landfills, using it instead to generate energy by burning it or producing compost.

It is important to note that over the last two years, Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry has expanded its program of refuse separation for recycling, but even the ministry acknowledges that the program has not yet brought about a significant increase in recycling. Israelis are major producers of garbage. The country is ranked seventh in the amount of household garbage per capita, about 620 kilograms or 1,364 pounds. The United States produces the highest amount per capita of household refuse at 730 kilograms, while Estonia is at the opposite end of the spectrum at 280 kilos.

A particularly sorry statistic when it comes to Israel is its high rate of use of non-renewable fossil fuels, a major source of pollution. In Israel’s case, it comes despite the availability of sunlight as an energy source along with energy technologies that have been developed in the country. Fully 96.7 percent of the country’s energy is derived from these non-renewable energy sources (including its large reserves of natural gas). By contrast, the average among OECD countries is 81.4 percent. The leader in the use of renewable energy sources among OECD members is Iceland, which has large geothermal energy resources and uses fossil fuels for just 15 percent of its energy needs.

Israel is the OECD’s largest consumer per capita of water from natural sources for public use such as agriculture and watering of urban spaces, at 203 cubic meters per year – far higher than the OECD average of 126 cubic meters. Nonetheless, Israel has major accomplishments to its credit when it come to water quality, and is among the top five countries in terms of purification of sewage. Another piece of information that does not appear in the OECD report is Israel’s worldwide leadership in the use of treated sewage for irrigation.

Israel also has done much to its credit when it comes to afforestation and the extent of protected areas (including forests, nature reserves and national parks), which at this point comprise about a fifth of the country. Nonetheless, pressures from increasing population density have taken their toll on the country’s flora and fauna. Fifty-six percent of the Israel’s species of mammals are in danger of becoming extinct in the country. Israel ranks top among OECD members, while France and Estonia are at the other extreme with respect to mammals threatened by extinction. On the other hand, Israel has an impressive record in saving a number of species including wolves and ibexes, and in returning species that had become extinct in the wild back to nature, including the oryx and fallow deer.

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