(photo credit: Tallulah Floyd)
Arad has launched a project to rebrand itself as the "recycling city." The Negev town has begun to encourage all forms of recycling, from paper and plastic to old clothes.
Yet what is unique about the project are not the technical aspects. Their tools are the same as in other Israeli cities: cages for plastic bottles, containers for batteries and cylinders for paper. There are no advanced technological elements.
Instead, the focus of the project is on the people: on cooperation and collaboration.
The project began as an unusual collaboration among a foreign donor, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the Environmental Protection Ministry, the local environmental unit, the municipality and the Or Movement, which seeks to encourage settlement in the Negev.
The idea was first raised by Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Charitable Foundation out of Boston. Ruderman runs all of his family foundation's day-to-day activities from Israel, having made aliya three-and-a-half years ago.
"Where I lived [in Boston] we were recycling everything. So I tried to think of a way to improve recycling in Israel," he told The Jerusalem Post recently. "We approached the JNF because they have a project to develop the Negev. We shopped the idea around and Arad was the most interested."
This is the foundation's first foray into an environmental education endeavor, but Ruderman hopes it will become a model which can be replicated across the Negev and throughout Israel.
The foundation has been active in other types of educational activities both here and in the Boston area.
For Ruderman, the partnership aspects were critical.
"Partnerships maximize what you can do," he said.
JNF CEO Russell Robinson sees a similar potential in the program.
"The Negev is the new frontier for the 21st century. The Negev is languishing. Arad went from a middle-class city to a depressed one. Beersheba was losing its population until two years ago.
"You need to bring 500,000 people in the next 10 to 15 years. People need to take pride in their community and their city and this kind of project could do that.
"Recycling is very tangible - the visual of all the plastic bottles collected brings better understanding. And of course, if it works in Arad, it can be replicated elsewhere," he told the Post.
All across the South, Robinson pointed out, environmental projects are beginning to sprout up in the scattered communities. The JNF has invested significant sums in various projects and plans to continue to invest in the upcoming years.
"There's the Timna National Park which brings in 250,000-300,000 visitors. Kibbutz Lotan is an environmental showcase. There's a farmers market in Yahel and our idea is to create a bike path from Yahel to Eilat with kiosks at every stop," he said.
The JNF plans to invest $2m.-$3m. in that project.
Nitzana has also moved to adopt ecological principles with a recycling teaching center and other aspects.
In addition to the collaborative nature of its conception and inception, the Arad recycling program focuses on tailoring recycling to the needs of the city's individual communities. Instead of just placing cages and containers around the city and running a PR campaign, the planners have involved the public from the very first.
"We started off by holding a public hearing about the project. There were 750 seats and every one of them was filled," Ayala Guber-Avrahamy of the Eastern Negev Environmental Unit recalled. The unit services Arad, Tamar, and Yeroham.
Since the hearing, the public has been involved with every aspect of planning and execution. It's a bottom-up model, rather than top down, Guber-Avrahamy said.
"Our success is measured by our ability to involve the community, to get them to understand the value added," she said. A community-based process is considered more sustainable in the long run, according to community organizing professionals.
Moreover, since recycling is largely based on citizens' willingness to participate and separate their garbage at home, it's particularly amenable to the planners' strategy.
"We met with every community in order to understand what their needs were," said Svivotichnun's Hagit Naalei Yosef, whose firm was brought in to plan the program.
"Sometimes the community doesn't connect to the collection receptacles, and sometimes they are in the wrong place," she noted.
"When we talked to the community of people with disabilities, for example, they mentioned that the holes in the cages for plastic bottles were too high for them," Guber-Avrahamy said.
"They also suggested that pupils who have to fulfill their community service obligations could come by their houses on a regular basis to pick up all sorts of plastic to recycle," Naalei Yosef said.
The local haredi community is also involved.
"In the Gur Hassidic community, they recycle pregnancy clothes. At one of the local schools, we've started a uniform-shirt recycling program, where pupils bring the shirts they've outgrown for the younger ones," Guber-Avrahamy added.
To the best of her knowledge, Guber-Avrahamy said, a community involvement model like this hasn't been tried anywhere else in Israel to encourage recycling.
Looking to the future, Guber-Avrahamy said they were in talks with a plastic recycling company about recycling types of plastic other than plastic bottles.
"They work with a lot of factories, but they've never worked with a municipality before," she said, "We're thinking about having the sorting done by people with special needs."