Support for a plan to enable local authorities to regulate and enforce where construction waste is dumped and to encourage recycling was the main issue at the first national conference on construction waste Monday in Ramat Gan. "Construction waste has become a very big national problem," said Linor Arieli, attorney for the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED), which hosted the conference. "This conference is part of a long process that we have been working on since last year. We used this opportunity to introduce to the relevant offices our solution, and to give some kind of stage for this issue to be discussed." Attended by Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, along with representatives from the ministry, members of local authorities and contractors' unions, the meeting tried to tackle various environmental problems. Gil Yaniv, deputy minister of infrastructure for the Ministry of the Environment, shared Arieli's enthusiasm for the proposal. "The state and municipalities didn't really cope with the problem until recently," Yaniv told The Jerusalem Post as members of the conference milled around drinking coffee and browsing exhibits set up by a myriad of environmental NGOs. "This is the first time we can come up with solid solutions and reach consensus among the establishments." The "problem" is the disposal of 7.5 million tons of construction waste annually. Only a small percentage of the waste is transferred to legal dumping sites; the rest is dumped illegally in open spaces and along highways. Only a tiny fraction is recycled, according to Yaniv. The dumping is devastating to the landscape and causes water, air and soil pollution. Financially, illegal dumping in open spaces results in a decrease in property values. Currently, contracting companies are responsible for discharging waste. There is little incentive or ability for local authorities to enforce contractors to dump in authorized sites or to recycle. Attorney Christine Folman of the Levinson Environmental Law Firm said that Northern Europe was a "good example of a successful management leading to recycling of that waste." Countries in the European Union widely recycle construction waste. Folman described the importance of creating an infrastructure of support and incentives to encourage and aid local authorities and contractors with the process of dumping legally and recycling the construction waste. "Industry needs advice from municipalities," she said. "Countries need to develop a market for recycled construction waste. For this kind of market, discrimination between reused and virgin material must be abolished." "There needs to be strong legislation on landfills so waste does not end up there," continued Folman. "As any government sets obligations, [it] must give advice on how and what to do so as to create facilities and an economically feasible solution." The IUED, in a report handed out to conference participants, called on the Ministry of the Environment to continue to develop ways to increase the demand for recycled materials and provide incentives for developing practical and feasible solutions for recycling and recovery. Yaniv and Arieli agreed that the conference was a good step towards developing and implementing the proposed plan. "We were very happy to see that they did cooperate with us," said Arieli. "They gave us their blessing to host this conference." But Yaniv also said that it would be difficult to initiate the IUED-suggested programs because "not enough ministries take responsibility." Zvika David, manager of the Beni and Zvika Construction Company, said his company made the decision to begin recycling their construction waste following an exhibition in Germany. He and his brother attended the conference as representatives for private contractors. Sitting at a booth outside the main conference hall, he hoped that "other contractors will start recycling regularly." "I believe we can make recycling in Israel a good business practice," he said. "It is something we need to do as good citizens."