Garbage doesn’t just stink. It also tells us stories.
And at Jerusalem’s Atarot’s hi-tech recycling and waste treatment plant, around 10% of the city’s daily trash consists of disposable baby diapers.
“It’s the highest number all over the world,” said Offer Bogin, CEO of Greennet, the waste management facility, referring to Jerusalem’s many large families with a high birthrate. “We are in contact with one of the biggest diaper producers in the world and we are trying to develop the first recycling plant in the world to deal with this type of problem.”
Some one million people send their garbage to east Jerusalem’s Greennet, located in the Atarot industrial zone, with some 250 garbage trucks arriving and departing all hours of the day and night, excluding the weekly Sabbath and Yom Kippur. On other holidays, garbage removal continues. After the holidays, the amount of garbage processed can nearly double.
The city’s inhabitants produce 1,500 tons of garbage daily. Until just two years ago, almost all of Jerusalem’s waste was being sent to a landfill in the Negev.
Now, 40% to 45% of the waste processed at Greennet is recycled, more than any other plant in the country.
In 2016, Jerusalem recycled about 35% of its overall garbage, in contrast to Tel Aviv, which only recycles 15%, Bogin said.
Located in the Atarot industrial zone, the site offers cutting-edge technology when it comes to automated waste separation, as analytics are integrated in every single piece of equipment, from trucks arriving at the gates to robotic cranes and infrared sensors divvying up the waste.
When garbage trucks pull up to the site, near the Palestinian village of Kalandiya, a camera records each license plate to determine from which area the garbage hails. Then the waste is weighed to break down the amount of garbage per neighborhood.
Towering cranes lift the trash into holding bunkers. There, workers manually remove large items such as a dirty mattress or an old laundry machine.
Then the garbage gets channeled onto conveyor belts, which lead to a giant 40-meter-long trommel. A trommel is a cylindrical rotating drum – like a spinning laundry machine – where small holes allow organic material to fall through. Sharp hooks are affixed to the sides of the trommel, which allow plastic garbage bags to be ripped apart as oversized materials exit on the other side.
From there, metals are separated via upside-down magnets. Paper and plastic are identified via optical infrared sensors, then separated by valves of air and crushed down into a giant cubelike baler to allow for easy transport.
The recyclables are mostly exported to Turkey and the Far East, because Israel lacks a facility for processing plastic and glass recycling. The organic material and food scraps go to a fertilizer compost plant in the Jordan Valley, while non-recyclable garbage goes to a landfill in the Negev, for now.
“In the future, all the garbage will go to waste-to-energy, or burning all the leftovers and making energy from this,” Bogin said, adding this type of facility would cost around NIS 875 million, with half the facility being comprised of filters. He estimated that sometime within the next five years, the country would start building a waste-to-energy plant for Jerusalem.
In the meantime, Greennet faces an exponentially growing amount of garbage, as in the course of one year the amount of waste increased by 10%.
The plant has been able to absorb such an increase, and annually it has even led to 200,000 fewer tons of garbage being shipped to the landfill.
The plant was launched in spring 2015 at a cost of NIS 100m. It is managed by a private infrastructure firm, YSB, which got a tender from the Jerusalem Municipality. The plant hopes to break even financially by the end of this year, but in the meantime the Environmental Protection Ministry is providing grants.
Operating the Greennet plant is expected to save Jerusalem NIS 17.8m. annually due to the municipality’s reduced landfill levy and less of a need to transport waste, The Jerusalem Post previously reported.
Delegations of waste management executives have come from all over the world to visit Greennet, including a few officials hailing from neighboring Arab countries. Bogin declined to identify the Middle Eastern nationalities but it is part of an overall trend of Sunni countries engaging in underthe- table commercial ties with the Jewish state.
At the plant, some 150 non-unionized employees work in three shifts.
Forty of them are technicians and engineers and many of the remaining workers are Palestinians.
Bogin added that it is hard for Greennet to fulfill its work quota, and the plant currently faces a slight worker shortage due to a lack of work permits.
That said, given that the site is located in an industrial zone, Palestinian workers can come to the garbage plant even when the entire West Bank is under closure, or when all checkpoints are closed.
The plant automatically separates waste because popular campaigns asking people to pre-recycle in homes – dividing glass from paper – are futile, and even in Scandinavian countries less than 50% of households comply.
Yet despite the automation, Bogin warned about being complacent “It’s something that if you really don’t care about it, at the end it will come back to you, either in your pocket or in an environmental problem that you will suffer from it, from the smell, from the gas, from the burning.”