The Recycling Revolution

Israel still lags behind Europe and North America in every facet of waste management. Instead of recycling waste or using it to produce energy, Israel deals with its garbage mainly by burying it, thereby both squandering its land reserves and creating environmental hazards. But the cabinet's decision on Sunday to endorse a package recycling bill, drafted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, could generate a substantial improvement in Israel's quality of life.

According to the bill, package manufacturers would be obliged to send packaging waste to recycling. The recycling rate is slated to reach 60 percent within four years, thus preventing the burial of a sizable portion of this waste. Since the manufacturers have already agreed to the legislation in principle, it has a good chance of being passed swiftly by the Knesset.

Implementing the packaging law is but the first step toward a comprehensive waste management policy. The second step, also being promoted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, is to create a waste-collection system that enables every household to sort its waste into dry (cardboard, paper and plastic) and wet (mainly food leftovers) and place them in separate bins. This will provide the recycling industry with better-quality raw material.

The cabinet's support for the bill will also presumably entail organizational and budgetary aid for the recycling system. Among other things, this means allocating money from a "clean fund" managed by the Environmental Protection Ministry to set up facilities for sorting, recycling and producing energy from waste. Today, this fund is financed by a tax collected at landfills, with the goal of making waste recycling more worthwhile.

The cabinet must ensure that the recycling legislation it is promoting indeed makes manufacturers responsible for collecting, transporting and disposing of the waste.

It will thereby avoid repeating the mistake made in the bottle deposit law, which enabled manufacturers to set up an independent corporation. This exempted them from direct responsibility and made it difficult to meet recycling targets.

The public also bears a weighty responsibility. To help create a clean environment, people must invest effort in sorting their waste. The state can ensure the accessibility of bins and sorting facilities, but every household will have to practice environmental responsibility to ensure the cleanliness of public spaces and a real improvement in our quality of life.