From a forest in the Te’ena neighborhood of Efrat, 12thgrader Naftali Gross told Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan about a recycling initiative he and his peers have been leading – a school-wide campaign of advertisements asking classmates to change their behaviors and mindsets toward waste.

“We saw a rise of 80 percent in recycling and a rise in 20% in knowledge of the students,” Gross said.

Efrat, the Judean hills settlement near Jerusalem popular among the national religious, has been striving in the past couple years to go green, at the initiative of Mayor Oded Revivi who came into office three years ago.

The mayor led Erdan on a tour Tuesday of Efrat’s environmental achievements, most of which are rooted in the efforts of the city’s children and young adults.

However, despite the willingness of residents to participate in citywide environmental initiatives, many projects that the city envisions are often impossible due to lack of funds, as Efrat has no revenue from construction due to the 10-year building freeze, Revivi said.

When a city pays for a building permit, a third of the funds go toward the budget of the municipality without any specific purpose, he said.

“A place that stopped developing 10 years ago is lacking those funds and doesn’t have any extra cash to go into projects that are important, and is basically struggling on a day-to-day basis as to how it will cover all of its expenses and can’t go into newer commitments,” Revivi said.

In response, Erdan indicated his support for helping Efrat with its green-funding.

“We will get it for them because we know that their commitment is deep. The budget won’t be a problem.”

Back in the forest, Gross spoke about the initiative he and his fellow students had piloted. He showed the mayor trees that were intentionally surrounded with garbage, like cardboard and plastic bottles.

Each Efrat high school “adopts” its own city forest to care for, said kindergarten coordinator Nava Asis, noting that this particular school decided to show the public “what happens when you don’t throw away” garbage.

Prior to the trip to the forest, the mayor showed the minister the Center for Environmental Sustainability and Science, an interactive setting that hosts preschoolers, kindergarteners and firstgraders throughout the year to teach them environmental practices. Each Efrat preschooler and kindergartener visits seven times a year, while first-graders come four times to do projects in science and art connected to raising green awareness, Asis said.

Revivi handed Erdan a cardboard bird feeder filled with information on composting at home, which each student received to translate practices at school to the household, according to Asis.

“The first time they came to our school they made us a composter to put in our school,” a seven-year-old girl named Miriam told The Jerusalem Post, about visits from the center’s instructors.

She said her family is starting to compost at home.

In the center’s back porch, alongside the greenhouse, sat flowers blooming inside giant old plastic bottles, beer kegs and toilet paper dispensers. The schools distribute to the children plastic boxes for their lunch to be used instead of plastic bags, and roof runoff is used to water all the plants that line the school grounds – water that the settlement would use to power school toilets if given approval by the Health Ministry, as toilets account for 80% of school water consumption, according to Asis.

Yet despite all of this innovation, the mayor said the city is lacking proper funds to continue with larger environmental projects throughout the city, such as large-scale household waste separation.

“I think Efrat has a great potential to become an example nationwide as to how a city can be friendly to the environment, how environmental projects can be encouraged,” Revivi told the Post.

“The main problem we are seeing is that despite the willingness of the residents, despite the awareness of the residents, despite the help of the educational department to educate the kids to it, when it comes to projects that involve a lot of funds we are lacking those funds, and the hope is that the minister will examine ways as to how we can actually help us in it.”

The ministry currently has a NIS 350 million budget to distribute among cities for waste separation, a project that will officially be launched in Ra’anana this Thursday. But Efrat, unlike many of Israel’s environmentally progressive cities, needs additional support because of the settlement freeze, Erdan said.

“You want to promote a project using your own money, and you think you’re going to get this money from taxes because new projects will be built, but then suddenly you find out you cannot build. So we will have to think of how to help them in ways we don’t help other municipalities.”

Erdan said he was impressed by the green achievements throughout Efrat, and said he hoped the residents continue in their waste separation efforts.

“I see it in their education, in their system you see it everywhere. I think that they are quite advanced already.”

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