Israel is buried under the weight of its waste

ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS: Here's how a new recycling plant in Israel's center could help solve Israel's mounting trash crisis.

 THE NEW construction waste recycling facility in Gush Dan.  (photo credit: Readymix-Shtang Recycle Israel)
THE NEW construction waste recycling facility in Gush Dan.
(photo credit: Readymix-Shtang Recycle Israel)

Israel, known for its historic landscapes and innovative prowess, is now grappling with a mounting trash crisis threatening its reputation.

Despite strides in various fields, the country finds itself buried under the weight of its waste, with alarming levels of illegal construction-waste dumping pushing it to among the highest in the OECD.

Yet, according to the director-general of the Environmental Protection Ministry, Israel has the technology to recycle and put back into the field as much as 90% of construction waste.

“Using recycled bricks and stones, for example, creates a circular economy and a more sustainable industry specifically and environment in general,” said the ministry’s Guy Samet.

To help turn this vision into reality, earlier this summer, a new central facility for sorting and recycling construction waste in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area opened. The plant includes a state-of-the-art facility for dealing specifically with construction waste from the area’s crowded cities – Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Holon, Ramat Gan, Bat Yam, Bnei Brak, and Givatayim.

 Illegal construction waste dumps (credit: ADI MAGER)
Illegal construction waste dumps (credit: ADI MAGER)

The facility was designed, built, and will be operated by the company Readymix-Shtang Recycle Israel, owned by the Readymix Industries (Israel) group, in collaboration with the Dan Region Association of Towns for Sanitation and Waste Disposal, and with the support of the Environmental Protection Ministry.

It is a “forward-looking facility that should be able to give the services to municipalities that they need and want,” said Gil Livne, CEO of the Dan Region Association.

The association already collects about 4,000 tons of waste every day from more than 30 local authorities in the region.

Many construction projects are currently underway in the area, and additional construction is planned in the coming years.

Samet said Israel has 36 construction waste recycling plants operating today, but this is the only one in the Gush Dan region. There used to be one in Herzliya, but it recently closed. Moreover, he said, the work at the new facility is “progressive.”

How the new recycling plant is special

YOAV LEVINSKY, CEO of ReadyMix Shtang Recycle Israel Ltd., helped spearhead the project; today, he helps oversee it. He said the first thing that differentiates the new plant is that it has an acoustic isolation panel built around it to keep the loud sounds emanating from it away from the neighbors, thereby reducing noise pollution.

Inside the facility, the construction waste undergoes a several-step sorting, cleaning, and recycling process. The waste is loaded onto a conveyor belt and sorted by a star screen that separates the waste into different lines. Larger materials are transported further. Smaller materials drop onto the fine screen deck and are divided into additional categories, such as wood and plastic.

The largest pieces are sent to the crusher and ground into a fine material that can be used as sand or mixed to make construction aggregate. Levinsky said the aggregate is equal, if not superior, in quality to the new aggregate.

The vast facility is already buzzing. From the more than 10,000 tons of waste already being delivered to the plant, Levinsky said, 85% goes back as materials for building and construction. Of the other 15%, 75% to 85% are recycled elsewhere. In other words, only about 5% of the materials end up in landfills.  

Levinsky said that 10,000 tons likely represents a fraction of what is being thrown out, because only some know about the facility.

Annually, approximately 7.3 million tons of construction waste are generated in Israel through new construction projects, building demolitions, reconfigurations of structures, road development, and infrastructure projects, as the Environmental Protection Ministry reported. Of this total, less than 6 million tons find their way to officially designated treatment facilities, leaving more than 1 million tons of construction waste to be illicitly disposed of in open spaces. The ministry has projected a 2% yearly increase in construction waste generation.

The repercussions of this illegal dumping include environmental, economic, and health concerns. Among these issues are the degradation of open areas due to indiscriminate waste disposal, the health hazards of waste incineration, and groundwater and soil pollution. 

THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Ministry introduced an amendment to the Building Waste Law as part of the Arrangements Bill, which passed alongside this year’s budget. The amendment, which mandates those generating construction waste to ensure proper disposal, received initial approval in the Knesset and is currently undergoing committee-level discussions.

This amended legislation is poised to establish comprehensive regulation within the construction waste sector, curbing the far-reaching consequences of unchecked waste proliferation in public spaces.

Explaining the context, Samet highlighted the diverse participants now involved in the construction waste collection process, including contractors, waste carriers, and treatment site operators. Furthermore, he said a disincentive exists for waste haulers to channel waste to authorized treatment facilities, as illegal disposal offers cost savings. Enforcement challenges also curtail open area dumping.

The proposed amendment mandates waste producers to contract directly with ministry-approved end sites for construction waste reception. Alongside augmenting waste producer responsibilities and end-site accountabilities, local authorities would ensure storage vessel placement within their jurisdictions.

“The law will lead to the improvement of the quality of life of the residents and the environment,” Samet said, adding that the ministry hoped to pass this legislation alongside the climate bill before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in late November.

According to the ministry, the expected savings for the economy following the bill’s passing would be approximately NIS 70 million per year – just in the cost of cleaning and restoration.

Livne seconded the cost savings. He said that when waste does not reach authorized plants, the municipality is forced to find and clear it up, costing it time and money. With all the new projects expected to pop up in the next five years, the combination of the legislation and the new Dan regional recycling plant likely prove essential.

“More fines are not the answer to illegal construction dumping,” Livne concluded. “We knew we needed to close the gap.”