Waste and the People Who Love It

A day at Hiriya Recycling Center, formally known as garbage dump mountain.

Environmental haven 390 (photo credit: Julia Schiller)
Environmental haven 390
(photo credit: Julia Schiller)
“I fell in love with waste 13 years ago, can you believe it?” This was how Doron Sapir, the chairman of the Hiriya Recycling Center, introduced himself on a rainy Israeli winter day. We sat in his office at the foot of a huge, man-made mountain you could see from a mile away. That mountain was actually a dump; for nearly 50 years, garbage upon garbage was heaped upon it. But in 2001, rehabilitation began. The mountain was covered with dirt, and a system of wells was created to collect the biogas produced by the garbage, which is now used to produce electricity.
Hiriya also has a state-of-the-art waste management separation center. It collects the waste from 25 cities, about 2.5 million people, and takes in over 4,000 tons of waste every day. This is between a third and a quarter of all waste produced in Israel.
Here, they separate different types of recyclables and waste for later uses.
Underneath cloudy skies, I got a quick tour of the facility by a worker named Iftach. He showed me where the sorting takes place, and the sheer amount of manpower and machinery needed to handle it. The amount of garbage was crazy – 4,000 tons is hard to imagine until you see an amusement park of conveyer belts transporting a never-ending stream of garbage. How do they manage it all? “All over the world when you treat the waste, you dry it first, then you separate it,” Sapir explained.
“But the crazy Israelis, not only are they not drying the waste, they’re putting it into water!” This seems like a strange solution, but he gives me an example by asking what happens if we put my cell phone and a piece of paper in water? I figure one floats to the top and the other sinks. He says it’s that simple. He then makes a good point. “Why would you do that? Israel is not a country that is wealthy with water! Well, we’re not only consuming water, but producing it. Water is in a third of waste. The water is going back to the process.” They even purify waste water using flowers and microbes, a process in which Sapir is very confident. “We think these flowers can do anything.
They’ll do the job.”
Simple ingenuities like that make Hiriya a leading example in the waste management industry, and they consequently get many international visitors.
“I can’t recall a country whose representative wasn’t here.
You can open my calendar and see we are flooded with visits from mayors and government officials,” he says lightheartedly.
“Many people coming here say we inspire them. It gives them thoughts on how to treat waste.”
Another great part of Hiriya is the educational center, which hosts over 100,000 visitors a year from across the globe. “I don’t recall any other facilities like this so close to a dump.
It’s very unique,” he boasted.
“The main target is to make sure that our generation and the next generation are more aware of environmental issues. I see all these youngsters getting more aware of environmental problems. It’s very exciting. I know when they’re back home they’ll show their parents what they did and tell them about it.
Young people have the power to influence.”
Doron Sapir first became involved in recycling thirteen years ago, when he was the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv. He got into a small argument with the mayor at the time. “To punish me he sent me here, threw me into the waste. But I fell in love with the waste, and I won’t give it up.” That love became clearer and clearer the more we talked about garbage.
“I think waste reflects our life.
Everything we do, everything we use at the end of the day, will be there,” he tells me seriously, then starts gesturing around the office. “This pen, this paper, this phone, our clothing, what we eat; everything you see here will, at the end of the day, be waste. It’s part of our life; we can see our life in waste. Waste never lies.
It tells the truth about us. Our duty as a society is to take all the resources in waste and add value. It’s useful for our society.
Waste has its way of mind, of life. We have to put life back into the waste.”
When asked why he thought ecological responsibility was important, he replied, “Because it’s our life, we’re dealing with our life. Take the dump, for example.
The generations before us didn’t think about what could happen.
I can’t blame them for that, because they weren’t aware.
We are aware; that’s why we are responsible. We have to do all we can to prevent damage to the environment.”
But what about people who deny global warming? When I posed this question, he said he felt sorry for them. “We can see it, we can feel it. I think if there is a slight chance it exists, we should treat it as it is, and invest all our efforts into preventing its advancing affects.”
Sapir hopes one of Hiriya’s next efforts is to build a branch of Tel Aviv University at the dump itself.
He hopes this will encourage students to research waste management, and they already are in contact with the university about it.
When I asked him what the one thing I should remember from this interview was, he first laughed. “Remember waste is a good thing. It’s a good thing and take advantage of it. Take the good things from it.”
The next time I’m in a “dumpy” mood, I’ll try to remember this advice.