Currently, just over four percent of all of the capital’s waste gets recycled – one of the lowest rates in the country. But, predicts Ami Kaplan, coordinator of solid waste management and recycling in the municipality’s Environment Protection Department, “This percentage in the Jewish area will be much bigger in the future,” adding that the recycling efforts in the Arab sector are much weaker than in the Jewish one.

In an attempt to boost this figure, the municipality has submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Environmental Protection to expand its recycling program throughout the city by installing an additional 200 plastic bottle recycling bins and 400 paper collection bins, which will bolster the 650 plastic and 400 paper receptacles already in use. In addition, as a pilot project, the city has requested the placement of 1,000 composting bins throughout its various neighborhoods.

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Still waiting for an official response to the July proposal, Kaplan says assuredly, “It will happen in 2010.”

Last year, the municipality opened a large-scale recyclables collection center in the Givat Shaul neighborhood, where Jerusalemites can bring their glass bottles, metal cans, electronics and electrical waste – including old washing machines and microwaves – and even used cooking oil. Also accepted are used books and clothing, cartons, batteries, plastic bags and organic waste.

Kaplan estimates that between 15 and 20 people show up to deposit their goods at the collection site each day. But its accessibility is greatly limited to those with cars, as it is on the outskirts of Jerusalem with only one bus line running directly by it.

Shira Barzily, who considers herself to be “environmentally minded” – and was a member of Atid Yarok, the Jerusalem-based group that originally petitioned the municipality to erect plastic and paper recycling bins around the city – says she didn’t know about the collection center’s existence.

“I think that’s fantastic,” she says of the initiative, which was launched at the beginning of 2009. “It’s a bit out of the way, but it’s a start.” She adds that if more people were aware of the recycling depot, it would likely receive many more residents a day.

The next step in better waste reduction practices, she says, would be the more widespread recycling of glass jars and metal cans.

“The law should be that everyone needs to separate their garbage into three bins – [regular waste; plastic, glass and metal; and paper],” says Barzily. “Maybe one day we’ll get to four bins, including compost. There’s still room for us to improve, and why not?”

Says Kaplan, “Ideally, we would have recycling bins beside each apartment building, but there are two problems.” The first, he explains, is that the city would have to spend much more money on garbage collection. The second is that in many places, there is simply no room to place the bins.

But despite the fact that households will not be getting their own set of bins any time soon, the municipality is looking to set up 20 supplementary recyclables collection centers, like the one in Givat Shaul but on a smaller scale, within Jerusalem’s community gardens.

This would provide better access to more people, plus the operating costs would be minimal, says Kaplan, since these gardens are maintained by local residents.

“In all the gardens, there are [already] composting bins, and most also have the option of accepting other recyclables,” says Ayala Wohl, the municipal coordinator of the community gardens, who throughout the month of November ran the Rhythm and Recycling festival in different gardens as a way to expose people to the issue of environmental protection.

“Jerusalem has the largest number of gardens [of any city in Israel – 40 in total] and is the only city that receives support from the municipality in a formal manner,” says Wohl. “We want to present Jerusalem as a place where the gardens have succeeded and to inspire the same action to be taken throughout the country.”

In a meeting with Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan earlier this week, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that previous mayors did not understand the importance of proper waste disposal, declaring that from now on the city would take responsibility for its waste.

Demonstrating a concerted effort to improve its waste management practices, Barkat laid out a five-year plan to revolutionize waste disposal, including a pilot project to separate dry and wet (organic and inorganic) waste in residents’ homes, which will be launched in two of the city’s neighborhoods.

One of the major incentives for all cities to create new recycling initiatives comes from a government taxation program, whereby each municipality must pay a surcharge based on the amount of waste it sends to landfill. This money will then be channeled into a special federal clean-up fund, which is used to advance alternative waste management practices. In this manner, the surcharge that the municipality pays the government essentially gets allocated back to the city in accordance with the specific recycling project proposals that have been submitted.

In Jerusalem’s case, about 65% of the approximately NIS 14 million paid in landfill taxes in 2010 (for 300,000 tonnes of waste) will get channeled back into the city to support its recycling initiatives.

“I think there is more awareness [now about the environment],” says Kaplan. “But it is still not enough.” He hopes that with the implementation of the city’s latest proposals, there will be greater awareness among the city’s residents.
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