The Minister Who Littered

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan should have expanded the deposit law, but the people with the money are more important to him. They are more influential than all the green organizations and the country?s citizens.

Sukkot is the holiday of outings and festivals. And indeed, masses of Israelis this week filled the parks and city streets, from Avdat National Park in the Negev to the land of streams in the far north. The people had a wonderful time, ate and rejoiced, but they were disappointed by the sight of the land littered with 1.5-liter family-size beverage bottles discarded on roadsides, floating in streams, thrown away on sidewalks and harming the environment. It takes 900 years for plastic to decompose.

What the masses of Israelis didn't see were the small beverage containers (plastic bottles or tin cans) of half a liter or less. They have vanished from the national litter map. The reason for their disappearance is the recycling legislation that came into effect in October 2001. At the time the Knesset promised that in the near future the law would be expanded to cover family-sized bottles as well, but this never happened. The soft-drink manufacturers fought the expansion and succeeded. Their business interest overcame the public interest.

It turns out that the minister's influence is crucial. This week the manufacturers convinced Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan to hammer the last nail into the coffin of big, family-sized bottle recycling. Their influence is so strong that even environmental-quality experts kept silent. In the past they supported expanding the law, but now they have come down with a case of cowardice.

After meeting with Ron Kobrovsky, the head of Coca-Cola here, Erdan decided it was necessary to stop the legislative process that would impose a deposit on large bottles. The minister also agreed to decrease the extent of recycling of smaller bottles. The manufactures won in a big way. The public lost.

If Erdan were loyal to his role, he would have acted energetically in the opposite direction. He would have expanded the deposit law and repaired the flaws in the law so we could have a cleaner country and a healthier environment. But the people with the money are more important to him. They are more influential than all the green organizations and the country's citizens.

The upshot is that the manufacturers are demanding that far fewer small bottles be recycled, and the target for recycling large bottles is also dropping, from 85 percent to only 50 percent starting in 2014. Soft-drink manufacturers who have not yet met the law's targets and have not recycled 85 percent of small bottles, even though they are required to do so, are being awarded a prize: a decrease in the target to only 77 percent. A glorious surrender.

To compensate for the scandal somehow, the soft-drink manufacturers have promised to increase to 20,000 the number of metal cages on city streets for collecting bottles. Currently there are 8,000 such cages. But this is just compounding the injury, because the ugly cages harm the quality of the environment. They are already an environmental nuisance, concentrations for filth and rubbish of every sort, so adding more cages is a clear ecological hazard.

The successful experience with the collection of small bottles proves that money talks. The moment it's possible to get the deposit back, people and organizations will be found to collect bottles from every corner. It's a fact we only see large bottles in public areas.

Instead of surrendering to the manufacturers, Erdan should have faithfully represented the public and made the manufacturers themselves responsible for collecting all bottles, both large and small, to ease the recycling process. If they know how to store full bottles, they can certainly figure out how to store empty ones.

A strange angle in this story is the Shas party's objection to expanding the deposit requirement. They argue that the deposit would increase beverage prices and therefore be a burden on families with many children that buy large bottles. They are ignoring that it would be possible to recycle these bottles and get the deposit back.

And anyway, since when is it a good idea to encourage consumption of sweetened and expensive beverages by families that are barely able to make ends meet? It is neither healthy nor economical. It would be better to encourage the drinking of water.

Anyone who takes advantage of the beautiful fall days for outings around the country and sees the dusty, family-sized bottles littering every corner, park or stream and harming the environment should remember that Gilad Erdan could have rectified the situation but favored the people with the money.