Jerusalem has stepped up its recycling of plastic waste in the past three years, finding alternative uses for about a third of the materials, compared with as little as 12% of it in 2014, the city’s director of sanitation services, Sharon Shifrit, told The Jerusalem Post.
About 1,200 tons of waste are produced in Jerusalem every day, which adds up to more than 400,000 tons a year, Shifrit said in a recent interview.
Shifrit attributed, in part, the 28% of plastic now recycled to the recycling and waste facility opened in Atarot. Built in 2015, the Greennet Recycling and Waste Treatment Facility receives all of the waste from homes in the Jerusalem Municipality and separates out the recyclable and reusable material. This means that even when people fail to recycle their plastic bottles, paper goods, or other packaging, it can still be saved, with dramatic results.
In the space of a year, from 2015 to 2016, Jerusalem saw a 10% rise in recycled material, Greennet CEO Ofer Bugin said.
Machines separate the metal, plastic, paper, cardboard and organic material in the garbage that it treats. From these piles, the recyclable items are sold to plants all over the world that will reuse the material, the organic matter is brought to compost piles, and the rest is dumped into landfills, although future plans indicate it will be incinerated.
While this new program is helping to increase recycling in Jerusalem, is it enough to make a significant difference in the long run? And is turning to machinery to separate recyclables a better approach than relying on people themselves?
Nehama Ronen, chairwoman of ELA Recycling, the Beverage Containers Collective Corporation, said while Greennet saves a lot of recyclable material from being buried in a landfill, the material is better quality when it is kept separated from the beginning – that is, when people take it upon themselves to recycle.
“Atarot takes mixed-up garbage and separates the wet [organic matter] and dry [plastic, paper, etc.], but it’s not as good as when it’s separated before it’s thrown out, because the dry becomes wet,” she said. It’s harder to reuse the dry material this way, and, if contaminated, it can be more difficult for the organic matter to compost, she added.
ELA Recycling focuses on plastic-bottle recycling, which is the most successful sort of recycling in Israel, because it has become ingrained in society, with its collection cages dispersed in neighborhoods throughout Israel and return deposit laws.
Thanks to the deposit law, which is similar to those in other countries, people can bring their plastic bottles, cans and even glass wine bottles to deposit centers and receive 30 agorot for each container.
Ronen believes educational initiatives have been one of the most effective ways in making recycling a sustainable part of life in Israel, ranging from running persistent, long-term ad campaigns to programs in public schools to educate children.
“We let young children bring their bottles and cans to school, and we collect them and give them the money from the deposit,” she said. “Children are now able to educate their parents and bring their stuff at home to cages. According to research, we found that in houses where the children learn about recycling in school, the parents also feel more responsible to recycle.”
Encouraging people to separate their waste products and recycle may be an uphill battle, but in the long run it brings results.
“It takes a long time to educate people to change their way of life and adopt natural habits,” Ronen said.
Education and legislation are prominent forces in changing people’s habits, but the prevalence of infrastructure may be the most crucial aspect in continuing to increase recycling efforts in Israel.
“We cannot judge if the cages are a success or not: at least two-thirds of Israel is not covered with orange collectors [for packaging material],” Ronen said. “You can’t ask people to recycle if they don’t have the infrastructure near their homes.
Give them the tools and then start to educate them.”
Nahlaot, in downtown Jerusalem, is a perfect example: While they have containers for plastic bottle recycling, they are missing containers for other recyclable materials, apparently due to lack of space, according to Shifrit.
But where there are collectors present, people are using them. There are 24,000 collection cages across the country for plastic bottles alone, according to Ronen.
While fewer in number, there are also brown bins for organic matter, purple for glass, blue for paper and cardboard, gray for heavy-duty cardboard, and green for all other recyclable materials.
Naomi Tsur, the founder and chairwoman of the Jerusalem Green Fund and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem (2008- 2013), said these cages have succeeded because people have grown accustomed to them.
“Most people really change their habits and get used to bringing bags from home,” Ronen said, referring to a new fee when it comes to using plastic bags.
The recent law requires people to pay 10 agorot for each plastic bag they take at the grocery store. Ten agorot is hardly going to break the bank, but it impacts the way people act.
“There was huge discussion and criticism against this legislation,” Ronen said.
“Knesset members thought it would cause more damage and that people would prefer to buy the bags – but no, most people bring their bags. It’s insulting; why should I pay 10 agorot if I can bring from home? It’s about values and how to save the environment and keep it for the next generation.”
The next step is to encourage people to compost their organic waste, which makes up roughly 45% of our garbage, according to Tsur.
“It doesn’t need to go anywhere, it just needs to be separated and distributed to our parks and gardens,” she said. “It’s started in Beit Hakerem and has had a positive effect both economically and as a fertilizer. And the amount of reduction in garbage is amazing.”
If people composted their own organic waste, towns could spend less money collecting garbage and separating it at facilities like the one Greennet is operating, and they could keep their public parks and gardens healthy and fertile at no additional cost. People could also have their own fertile gardens with their compostable waste. It’s just a matter of changing perspective and habits, according to Ronen and Tsur.
But for cities to progress in their recycling initiatives, Tsur said, people have to play more active roles in setting up infrastructure in their cities. In her opinion, compared to other issues Israel and the Middle East are dealing with, recycling should be an easy accomplishment.
“It’s all very well to blame the municipality, but the public doesn’t vote about it,” she said. “People vote right or left, but transportation, education and garbage issues – these are the issues we have to vote about. If you look at the platforms of the candidates, you won’t find recycling listed – [unless] our candidates know we care about them.”
But facilities like Greennet present a secure backup solution, a way to clean up after the people who remain unaware of the importance of recycling.
“If we cannot educate the people, we as a country, a municipality, a government have to clean up these places,” Ronen said.