Jerusalem transforming trash into cash

Ahead of landfill’s closure, city makes money while cutting down on garbage.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
August 16, 2012 03:51
Recycling carton at Mahane Yehuda Market

Shuk 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Rotten tomatoes might actually be responsible for ensuring that Jerusalem’s students have enough classrooms in the coming years.

As the city faces an exponential increase in the cost of trash disposal with the closure of the Abu Dis landfill, it is searching for creative ways to cut down on the amount of trash. A plan to sell recyclable materials to private companies means the boxes of rotten tomatoes at the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk have magically turned from trash into shekels.

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For decades, Jerusalem has dumped trash at a cheap and poorly-run landfill in Abud Dis on the outskirts of east Jerusalem. Due to an Environmental Protection Ministry mandate, the city is currently phasing out use of the dump, which will be completely closed in 2013. The city now must truck its garbage, in ever-increasing amounts, to dumps in the Negev at the cost of nearly NIS 80 million for 2012 and 2013.

As education and social services budgets came under threat to pay for the rising trash costs, the city turned to cost-saving methods that are also beneficial for the environment. The emphasis is on separation at the source: separating recyclable materials from trash and then selling those materials to private recycling companies.

The Mahaneh Yehuda shuk is the forefront of the recycling push, and this month, more than 40 hotels, retirement homes, and supermarkets have joined in the compost efforts.

Every day, the city creates about 1,100 tons of garbage. The shuk alone creates 12-15 tons per day. But a year and a half ago, the municipality decided to separate the garbage at the shuk’s two trash collection points on Agripas and Jaffa Streets.

Now, two sanitation workers stationed at each trash collection point separate the garbage into the three types: organic waste (rotten vegetables and fruit that cannot be sold), cardboard boxes, and regular trash.

The results have been dramatic. Every day, the shuk recycles 3-4 tons of cardboard and 2-3 tons of organic waste. The cardboard and the organic waste are then sold to a private contracting company called Delila. For each ton of cardboard, the city receives NIS 300 – more than NIS 315,000 per year. Delila does not yet pay for the city’s organic waste, but they will do so once the city increases the amount of organic waste they are sending.

While the NIS 300 sum may seem paltry, the more important aspect is that the municipality is making money instead of losing money by shipping the garbage down south. Approximately 40 percent of trash is recyclable organic waste, and it is usually also the heaviest part of trash, so the savings are significant, explained Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who holds the Environmental and Urban Planning portfolios.

“The high cost of dumping could leave us with a shortfall for social services and education,” Tsur said on Wednesday. In the past few years, the city increased recycling from 2% to 12%. The municipality has set a goal of increasing the amount of recycling approximately 5 percent per year in order to cut down on trucking costs.

Tsur, a former director of the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, praised the “wise decision” to close down Abu Dis, which is dangerous and is still spewing pollution into the nearby area. She also noted that while the trash is not the most glamorous subject, it cannot be ignored, especially because it is about to become much more expensive.

“I spend most of my time with sewage and garbage, they have played a very dominant role,” she said.

Other initiatives are underway to decrease the amount of trash that the city disposes each day. The Ginot Ha’ir local council, which includes Rehavia and the German Colony, launched a composting initiative.

Jonathan Plithman, in charge of the program, is helping 400 families learn how to compost.

Beit Hakerem has a similar initiative and Nahlaot just launched a pilot program with four organic waste bins placed around the neighborhood.

Starting in mid-July, more than 40 hotels, supermarkets, and old age homes started separating their organic waste from the rest of their trash, which in the first month amounted to more than 70 tons. The city collects the organic waste separately. This program is expected to expand to even more hotels, some of the biggest culprits for organic waste due to their buffets, in the coming months.

But the shuk remains at the forefront of recycling. City sanitation senior supervisor Ami Mizrahi, who oversees 65 workers at the shuk, is passionate about the shuk’s cleanliness.

The 30-year veteran of the city’s sanitation services often comes to the shuk on his own time, late on Friday nights, to watch the weekly intensive scrub-down of the market, just because he enjoys it. He said that the increasingly stringent recycling laws also played a part in the decision to push recycling at the market.

The recycling company Delila, Mizrahi said, is crazy about the shuk’s organic waste. “The compost is a really high quality because it’s not mixed in with anything,” he said.

Musa Rasheed is in charge of the Valero trash collection area, located next to the shuk’s entrance on Jaffa Road. Previously, they used a dumpster four times the size at his station. Once the workers began separating trash, they produced far less regular trash, and got a smaller dumpster, he explained.

Rasheed, who was previously the afternoon shift supervisor at the shuk, makes sure that each type of trash gets into the right bin. He also helps the locals. While some neighbors dislike having the trash collection point near their homes, others have enthusiastically embraced the idea and began bringing their own organic waste.

For Rasheed, who has worked in trash collection at the shuk for 15 years, the amount of recycling they save from landfills is a source of quiet pride.

“You’re making money from trash,” he said on Wednesday.

“This is the best work there is – you’re making something from nothing. This would be trash and we’re making money from it – it’s just amazing.”

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