Waste vs. Wake

 If you live in Jerusalem and wake up in the middle of the night with the smell of plastic burning, it is not in your imagination. It is real. Plastic is burning a few kilometers east and the winds blow the smoke – together with the smell and carcinogens and neurotoxins – towards the city.
The smell is coming most probably from illegal burning of electronic waste (e-waste) to retrieve expensive metals, such as copper from wires of electric appliances and old computers. For the unaware neighbors, either Palestinian or Israeli this activity means exposure to neurotoxins, that is, poisonous toxins destructive to nerve tissue, which when inhaled cause serious damage and disability to the brain.
Together with electronics, solid waste – paper and plastics - is also burned to clear empty lots for more waste to be (illegally) disposed. Or waste self-burns through the release of methane at the illegal and legal landfills in the West Bank, such as the landfill in Abu Dis. This site, surrounded by Israeli and Palestinian homes and open land where flocks graze, used to collect all Jerusalem municipal waste until recently. 

As environmental hazards don’t recognize and don’t respect borders, barriers, maabarot, check-points or separation walls, it is obvious that what happens on the West Bank affects Israel in general, and Jerusalem in particular. For many years, Israeli contractors have found a cheap heaven to get rid of waste – primarily construction and e-waste, sending it on trucks and dumping it in the backyard of our neighbors, in empty plots and open nature in the West Bank. Probably thinking that this cheap trick solves their problem, and gives a source of low income to local communities. However, it does not. The communities in effect become a dumbing site for our waste – with all the health and environmental damage this means. Then, as they burn our waste, the problem comes back to us, more poisonous, potentially damaging our children’s and grandchildren’s health and ability to learn and excel. These are the real side effects of our ignorance, indifference, tolerance and inability to enforce the law.

Israel produces 4.8 tons of municipal and commercial solid waste annually with a 2% rate of annual increase. Our recycling rates may be high for plastic bottles (52%) and near target, but overall our recycling rates are among the lowest in OECD. In total, every Israeli produces on average 1.7 kilograms of solid waste every single day. A family of five may produce as much as 10 kilograms of waste daily!

We are a family of five. This week we installed our own organic waste composter in the backyard of our apartment building in Jerusalem. We are not new to composting. We have been composting for more than 13 years. First when living abroad, and then for two years while living in a kibbutz in the Negev. Through recycling organic waste (food, garden, lawn clippings), each peel and each wasted fruit does not become another producer of methane, a greenhouse gas, in a landfill. Instead, it returns safely to nature as organic fertilizer for our garden.

With a composter in our backyard, we can reduce our solid waste by nearly 50%. If we also calculate the recycling of paper and plastics that we dispose in the bins across the street, and metals, electronics, and fabrics that we bring to the Nature Museum recycling point, we estimate reducing our household waste by more than 80%!  This is nearly 3 tons of waste - by a family of five - diverted from the landfill every year!

It may not sound much, but multiplied by 1.5 million people living in Jerusalem, the numbers certainly become more impressive. Recycling may sound complicated, but it is simple. One just has to start. First, spot the green paper recycling cylindrical bin and plastic bottle cage near your house. Make it a routine to collect the old newspaper, utility bill and bank envelopes and other papers, and plastic containers (from water, to yogurt, and milk) to a plastic bag, and to dispose them on your way out. Once you master these simple steps, you can move on to address the disposal of electric and electronic waste, and then proceed to installing your own composter at home.

In Jerusalem, a good place to learn how and meet likely minded people is the Nature Museum at the German Colony. The beautiful garden of urban nature surrounding the elegant and historic Villa Deccan includes shaded seating areas, paths, areas for events, and a constructed wetland. At the community garden you can plant your own vegetables, learn how to recycle, buy plants, and become part of a very special community. 

This year, the community garden at the Nature Museum is celebrating 10 years of activity. On May 18 an event is taking place at 16:00 which includes visit to the gardens, (organic) food, music and activity for children. Admission is free and open to the general public. Entrance from the parking lot on Hamagid street.

If you plan to come, bring your bag of recyclables – plastic, paper, metal, electronic, electric, old clothes and fabrics, and organic waste - to dispose at the recycling point at entrance to the parking lot and at the entrance to the Museum garden. It is a great feeling to know that you are part of the solution, by diverting one more bag of waste from burning or the landfill!