Crouched over rows of worktables with screwdrivers at the ready, a group of
predominantly young men and women sits meticulously poking through metal
computer chassis, disassembling the fans, motherboards and the tiniest of
internal components for reuse.
Hailing almost entirely from Israel’s
special-needs population, the workers are employees of the Ecommunity Group’s
electronic waste recycling facility in Karmiel, where they are transforming
technological trash into usable parts and wholes.
The “Ecology for the
Sheltered Community” program through which the employees are working is the
brainchild of Ecommunity CEO and founder Danny Kogen, who has a toddler with
His combined passion of integrating special-needs young
adults into the workforce as well as the need “to transform electronic waste
from an ecological hazard to a natural asset” drove him to launch the project,
Kogen told The Jerusalem Post at the factory on Tuesday.
precision involved in taking apart a circuit and an affinity for electronics can
be “very therapeutic,” added Ira Caplan, Ecommunity’s liason to the United
“Through the needs of his son, [Kogen] came to understand a gift
that many special- needs kids have,” Caplan said. “These people are part of us
and they bring us a lot of strength.”
While the effort first began as a
smaller project in 2007, the company eventually opened shop in 2009 on Kibbutz
Yasur, about 15 km. west of Karmiel. The new facility, in Karmiel’s Misgav
industrial zone, opened its doors technically about a month ago but was
officially inaugurated on Tuesday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz.
In the spacious factory
workroom, surrounded by stacks of all-in-one printers and LCD monitors, Jewish
and Arab employees worked side by side and disassembled spare parts for reuse.
Still others thrived as computer technicians, assembling new computers and
reconfiguring broken ones for secondhand resale.
Dror, a 28-year-old from
Kiryat Haim, showed the Post his set of three screwdrivers and pliers that he
uses to take apart various machines, separating the contents into two yellow
While frustrated on Tuesday morning over difficulties with a
handheld DVD player, the ever-smiling Dror said he is very happy to be working
for the company for the past three years. In an adjacent room, 26-year-old
Rafat, who has been a technician there for six months, demonstrated how he is replacing the memory in a laptop on his
Ecommunity has 60 specialneeds workers and 14 staff members on
site in Karmiel, as well as 115 individuals training in various settings around
the country, Caplan said.
The recyclable computers, which make up the
brunt of the electronic machinery there, come from more than 2,000 companies,
organizations and local councils. Some of the prominent firms shipping in
computers include Rafael, IBM, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Bank Hapoalim and
The special-needs employees come from a wide range of
backgrounds and circumstances, including many on the autistic spectrum, as well
as others with Down’s syndrome, ADD/ADHD and other emotional and physical
“Our business is recycling electric waste and our mission is
employing the special needs population,” Caplan said.
Electronic waste is
a burden on the environment, because in addition to accumulating in unsightly
piles, the toxic chemicals found in this type of garbage can dangerously seep
into the groundwater, Caplan stressed. But that same toxic menace, if handled
properly, can be “transformed into a resource,” he said.
By delving into
productive work at the factory, the employees can become more independent and
enjoy environments in which they can thrive, Caplan added.
inauguration of the new Ecommunity facility resonates particularly well with
recently approved government policy on electronic waste. Last May, the Knesset
Economic Affairs Committee approved in its second and third readings an
Electronic Waste Law, which previously received first reading approval in the
Knesset plenum and support from the cabinet.
Initiated by Adam Teva V’Din
(Israel Union for Environmental Defense) and promoted by the Environmental
Protection Ministry and MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), the law aims to rid the
country of the approximately 80,000 tons of electronic waste that emerge in
landfills here each year.
The law stipulates that by 2021, all
manufacturers and importers of electronics must recycle the equivalent of 50
percent of the total weight of their annual electronics sales.
sell batteries must begin recycling between 30- 35% of their products, depending
on the type of batteries sold, by the year 2019.
All businesses that sell
electronics, meanwhile, will be required to accept old devices without
additional payment when a customer purchases a new and similar
According to the law, all electronic-waste recycling factories must
include specialneeds individuals as part of their workforce in order to receive
As far as the Environmental Protection Ministry is aware,
there are thus far five electronic- waste recycling facilities in the
Since beginning his term as environmental protection minister,
Peretz has essentially adopted the slogan “it is impossible to separate between
environmental and social justice” – a phrase he said particularly fits the work
going on at the Ecommunity facility.
“I think that at this factory you
can see this clearly, that it is impossible to separate between social justice
and environmental justice,” Peretz told the Post. “In reality, here we are
seeing the entire process – the changing culture of a whole people that
understood that waste is something that can be transformed into an asset,
something that can be transformed into a very important economic resource, and
something that provides social solutions that no other outlet succeeds to
“What we saw here is really a world of people who are
discriminated against, who are generally a burden on society, who are frustrated
at home, who have nothing to do,” the minister continued. “Suddenly they become
productive people, with self-confidence, with smiles on their
Just as crucial is the specific job that these workers are
performing, as 70% of the toxic pollution in Israel originates in untreated
electronic waste, Peretz added.
“They really provide a farreaching
solution to one of the most problematic environmental issues,” he
Peretz committed to advancing the stipulations of the Electronic
Waste Law and also vowed to give the support necessary to select companies that
will handle electronic garbage collection all over Israel.
“I hope that
this process will really move forward in the coming time period,” he
As for Ecommunity, the company has big future plans in both Israel
and abroad, hoping to spread the company’s concept to the United States within
the next five to 10 years, Caplan said.
At home, the firm is laying out
plans for a “Global Village” development in the Galilee, which aims to host an
industrial park whose companies reuse each other’s waste, as well as a
special-needs housing community. Ideally, the village will be powered by solar
sources, and rainwater will be reused to water the gardens, Caplan
“Our intention is that it will be run by special-needs
individuals,” he said. “Sometimes in this busy 21st century, we forget that
people can be the most important resource.”