How green are Israeli households? New report says Israel falling behind

Only when it comes to willingness to replace red meat with lab-grown meat, is Israel ahead of the other countries.

 Recycling bins (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Recycling bins
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

Israeli households are behind nine other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries in nearly all their efforts to make environmentally friendly choices, such as reducing waste, recycling or taking public transportation, according to a study published by the OECD.

When it comes to willingness to replace red meat with lab-grown meat is Israel ahead of the other countries.

The third OECD Survey on Environmental Policies and Individual Behavior Change (EPIC) was published this month and explores the attitudes and actions of 17,000 households in the areas of energy, transport, waste and food systems in nine countries: Belgium, Canada, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“The choices households make affect the climate and the environment in numerous ways, ranging from daily habits, such as what to eat and how to get to work, to less frequent choices, such as how to heat their homes,” the OECD explained.

“The potential to reduce the environmental impacts of household consumption is well documented but has proven difficult to realize. Understanding and overcoming the barriers to behavior change must be a policy priority given the urgent need to accelerate action to limit climate change and improve environmental quality.”

In general, the report found that households are willing to adjust their habits to benefit the environment if doing so is affordable, convenient and feasible or if the government or others offer incentives for doing so beyond helping the environment.

 Clean and sustainable energy (illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Clean and sustainable energy (illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

35% of respondents said climate change issues are significant

Only 35% of respondents – more women than men – said climate change or other environmental issues are significant. However, some 65% said they would be willing to make lifestyle changes for the benefit of the environment. Yet, the majority (63%) said that was only if there would be no additional cost.

“This survey shows that availability, affordability and convenience are the key drivers for people to make environmentally sound decisions, and there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” OECD environment director Jo Tyndall said.

“Governments should seek to remove barriers to sustainable choices and improve the incentives for making these choices. Households need greater access to more sustainable options – from enhanced public transport and accessible car-charging stations to renewable energy and collection services for different types of waste.”

The last EPIC survey was published in 2011, before the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015 and the rollout last year of the Global Biodiversity Framework. The United Nations is currently working on an internationally legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution.

There have also been advances in the climate tech arena, the OECD noted. The cost of renewable energies has declined, for example. There have also been advances in electric vehicles and digitization in general.

IN THE realm of waste practices, the report found that households in countries where recyclable waste is collected at their residence produce 42% less mixed (non-recyclable) waste than households without these services.

Fewer households in Israel (26%) report curbside collection compared to all other OECD countries except Sweden, where the same number of households enjoy collection. Similarly, nearly all households in Belgium, Canada, France and the UK report recycling aluminum, tin and steel cans at the curb, whereas drop-off is required in Switzerland, Israel and Sweden.

Across all nine countries, households report generating an average of 34 liters of mixed waste and 32 liters of recyclable waste per person per week. Israeli households report generating the most (48 liters per person) of non-recyclable waste. Conversely, Israel recycles 40% of its waste (the lowest of any of the OECD countries) compared to 53% in the UK (the most).

The report said that “expanding charging schemes for mixed waste disposal could be considered for improving waste management. Households charged for the amount of mixed waste they generate report composting 55% of their food waste, while those not charged report composting 35%. However, 19% of respondents – and up to 41% in Israel – report that they are not charged for disposal services.”

Only 47% of Israelis report using refillable containers (the lowest number) compared to 73% in Switzerland (the most). Likewise, only 20% of respondents in Israel buy second-hand items compared to the UK (44%), where the most people in any OECD country do so.

Regarding energy use, the report found that households are more likely to take on more effortless energy-saving actions, such as turning off lights when leaving a room, rather than harder ones, like reducing the use of air conditioners and heaters. It also showed that few households are using renewable and low-emissions energy options. Fewer than 30% of households have installed solar panels, for example.

“Uptake is particularly low for technologies that are costly or not well-understood,” according to the report.

On average, 19% of households in all nine countries use renewable electricity supplied on the grid, including 33% of people in the Netherlands. In Israel, however, only 5% said they are using renewable energy on the grid.

Households remain heavily dependent on private fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. Overall, 75% of households report that at least one household member uses a car regularly, citing a lack of nearby charging stations as the reason for not switching to an electric vehicle.

The highest reliance on private cars for urban commuting is in the US (65%) and Israel and Canada (56%).

Most (54%) respondents said that improved public transportation, including reduced fairs and increased availability, would encourage them to use it.

FINALLY, REGARDING food consumption, 24% of households consume red meat several times a week, and less than half of respondents indicate that they would be willing to substitute conventional meat with a lab-grown alternative. They say their food choices center on affordability (64%), taste (61%), freshness (60%) and nutritional value (54%) more than environmental concerns.

Lab-grown meat in Israel?

Would they be willing to try lab-grown meat? Here, 41% of Israelis (the most) say they would be ready to eat meat substitutes, compared to 20% in France (the least).

Israel recently announced food tech as a national focus, and Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis has said he is working on a master plan.

The OECD recommends making sustainable choices more available and providing incentives to improve outcomes.

“Environmental concern alone does not appear to be enough to change certain behaviors, such as in the case of eating red meat or using a car when alternative modes are feasible,” the report said.

It also recommended bundling incentives, such as discounts on sustainable food for those who shop using reusable containers.

In response to the report, epidemiologist and public health physician Dr. Hagai Levine said, “In Israel, there are specific challenges” toward households becoming more sustainable, specifically among the ultra-Orthodox and Arab minority populations. The ultra-Orthodox have large families, for example, and tend to use more disposables. Recently, the Knesset removed a tax on disposables due to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox.

Similarly, the ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations tend to have lower socioeconomic statuses, Levine said, which the report showed can also be a barrier to sustainability.