Activating the inert

Why aren't more Anglos involved in Beit Shemesh's fledgling recycling program?

bottles 88 (photo credit: )
bottles 88
(photo credit: )
In 2003, it took only eight months. In protest after protest, local Anglo residents in Beit Shemesh demonstrated against tire-burning. Using logos, carrying posters and wearing T-shirts and gas masks, and with the help of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED - also known as Adam Teva V'Din,) the Anglo residents of Beit Shemesh triumphantly kept tires from being burned at a cement plant just outside the city. With such a victory, it would seem only natural that the Anglos of Beit Shemesh would initiate a recycling program, which currently does not exist in Beit Shemesh. After all, most English speakers originate from environmentally conscientious cultures. Yet other than the recycling of bottles, which falls under the Deposit Law of Beverage Containers, there is no recycling in Beit Shemesh. Recycling paper bins did once exist around the city but they were removed because teenagers used to set them on fire as an afternoon pastime. Bottle recycling bins also existed but were removed when a bin, which had been unbolted from the ground by a local resident, tipped over, crushing a five year old girl to death. But both incidents occurred years ago. So why aren't Beit Shemesh citizens rigorously fighting for the return of recycling to their city? Actually, some Anglos do continue to collect bottles and take them to recycling collection bins in other places, such as nearby Yishi, or drop them off on their way to work in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. This would seem to indicate that if recycling were offered in Beit Shemesh, at least some of the residents would recycle. Yet the residents don't seem to be doing anything within the boundaries of their own city. Research, such as that conducted by Doug McKenzie-Mohr, an environmental psychologist at St. Thomas University, has demonstrated that knowledge about the importance of recycling and even the creation of supportive attitudes, really doesn't have much impact on what people actually do. What would have an impact? According to Aryeh Sonnenberg, the key operations coordinator in the fight against the tire burning in Beit Shemesh, "It's a question of leadership. Because they're Anglos, they're more concerned. And because they're Anglos, they feel more stymied due to their lack of Hebrew knowledge." That's not to say that most English speakers in Beit Shemesh don't speak Hebrew, he continues. It simply means that it's not as easy to fight for a cause in a language that is not your mother tongue. Beit Shemesh resident Renee Halpert, an active Anglo environmentalist well-versed in environmental policy in Israel, disagrees. Halpert is from Vancouver, Canada, a city situated between mountains and water. "Vancouver is at the forefront of recycling," claims Halpert. "Due to the esthetic location of the city, citizens have a heightened awareness of nature and a natural sensitivity to the environment. People have always been involved because they want to preserve. "I grew up with recycling," she continues. "This is something I know and understand. I know the potential it has." She insists that Beit Shemesh is also "one of the most beautiful places in the country." A few years ago, she decided that something needed to be done to jolt city officials into action. Halpert approached Councilman Zvi Wolicki, an Anglo, who is chair of the Beit Shemesh Environmental Committee and a representative of the local "Chen" party since the municipal elections two and a half years ago. Yet until until Halpert approached him, Wolicki admits, recycling wasn't even on his agenda for the Environmental Committee. "She pointed out that there is a real need for this," he confides. "I always planned on bringing back all the bottles, but I never thought about all the rest of the stuff" - such as the recycling of paper, glass, aluminum and metals. Following Halpert's initiative, Wolicki is now attempting to create a recycling program for Beit Shemesh. Recently, he received municipal approval for a budget of NIS 360,000, to be used towards a recycling campaign. He launched his campaign with an "Environment Fair" at the local community center. To Halpert's and Wolicki's surprise, only two other Anglos showed up. He would have considered Anglos to be his natural allies in the campaign but Wolicki will not be deterred. The campaign is intended to create active programs and education about recycling. Receptacles for various kinds of recyclables will be placed around the city and Wolicki intends to design and create a specific type of collection bin, which will allow recyclables to be sorted as they're being thrown away. These bins will be placed on school campuses around the city and the monies collected from them will be returned to the schools and thus reinforce recycling behavior. Furthermore, the allocated budget will enable him to hire a regional coordinator, who will work in the schools. While the municipality of Beit Shemesh is already in the habit of separating metal from its garbage, Wolicki admits that, "We're going to have to do better." Halpert wants to make sure of that. "I don't want Beit Shemesh to just catch up with the rest of Israel," she says. "I want [us] to be the center of recycling." So far, so good. Neither the municipal department heads, nor any other officials, have expressed any opposition to Wolicki's plans. And while the mayor has yet to offer his direct support for the policies, Wolicki prefers to emphasize the positive and says, "The mayor isn't putting any stumbling blocks in my way." But he is disappointed that when he calls for volunteers, "almost no one shows up." Halpert believes this is because so many Beit Shemesh Anglos are young couples with young families, who have trouble "seeing the sense of urgency" in recycling. Halpert sees the urgency and remains optimistic. "Things do change in Beit Shemesh," she says, "when people get up and do something about it rather than just complain."