Since I acquired citizenship in Israel in 2018, I’ve observed that our technologies for recycling wastewater are the most advanced in the world, yet we are decades behind many countries in terms of recycling glass, plastics, metal, cardboard and paper.

The Knesset had initially begun debating proposals which would require refundable deposits on plastic and glass beverage bottles in 1999.  In 2001, the Knesset approved a law which requires that all plastic and glass beverage bottles which are of 1.0 liter and 1.5 liter size have a refundable deposit on them.  The current deposit on plastic and glass beverage containers is 30 Agarot, which is equivalent to approximately 8¢ U.S.  

 In December of 2021, the law was expanded to include all glass and plastic beverage containers which are of 0.5 liter up to 5.0 liters in size.  While this change in the bottle redemption laws is a step forward in improving the recycling systems in Israel, the new law has had an unintended consequence, which has actually resulted in fewer glass and plastic bottles being recycled throughout the Israel.

 Because more beverage containers are now redeemable for the bottle deposits that are included with the prices of the beverages, the civil servants who work for the agencies within city governments which are responsible for placing recycling bins in public locations had assumed that more people would be returning their empty beer, soda, water, wine and juice bottles to supermarkets so that they could collect the deposits that they’d paid when they’d initially purchased their beverages.  In response to the newly updated bottle redemption law, the agencies within city governments which are responsible for placing recycling bins in public locations had opted to remove many of the plastics recycling cages which had originally been installed back in 2001 when Israel’s first recycling laws were initially enacted.  

 And while many people are in fact now returning more beverage containers so that they can collect the deposits which they’d paid when they’d initially purchased bottles of beer, soda, water, wine and juice, we need to bear in mind that the bottle refund law only applies specifically to beverage containers.  As is the case with every other country in the world, there’s still no refund for plastic and glass bottles which contain every other item that people use on a daily basis throughout the country.  Plastic and glass bottles which contain items such as mouthwash, laundry detergent, dish soap, hand sanitizers, shampoo, liquid hand soaps, perfumes, colognes, skin creams, etc. are still recyclable, and now that many of the plastics recycling cages throughout the major cities having been removed, the 4.5 million tourists who travel to Israel every year now have no options for recycling empty plastic and glass bottles that they accumulate while they’re traveling in Israel.  

As I researched this article, I found that there are no agencies within the Israeli government which are paying any attention to this issue, and there’s no available data anywhere on the Israeli government’s website or on the websites of any city government or district council’s websites which attempt to keep track of the amount of glass and plastic containers that tourists throw away every year.  In the absence of any agencies which are presently attempting to monitor this issue, there are no reliable figures that I can cite, so I am going to have to discuss this topic without being able to cite any accurate figures regarding the cumulative tons of empty glass and plastic bottles as well as metal, paper and cardboard products 4.5 million tourists dispose of annually when they travel.  

How Do The Municipal Recycling Systems InIsrael Operate?

The companies which are responsible for the contracts for public sanitation throughout Israel do provide recycling bins to people who live in private houses, and there are shared recycling bins for people who live in apartment complexes.  The system is similar to recycling systems which are used in many countries; recycling bins in private residences are collected weekly along with peoples’ garbage cans.

In cities as well as rural areas throughout Israel, the local governments have also been placing receptacles in public locations where people can place their empty glass, plastic and metal containers and as well as any paper and cardboard products that they want to recycle since the early 2000’s.  The recycling bins in public locations are intended to be an additional option for recycling.  For example, people who are commuting to and from work and don’t want to carry empty containers with them for several hours or tourists who are traveling throughout the country have the option to place any glass, plastic, metal, paper or cardboard items that they wish to dispose of into recycling bins which are located in public areas.

However, people who pay close attention to issues relating to recycling had been noticing that there were too few recycling bins prior to 2021, and now there are even fewer.  (To clarify, in December of 2021, the city governments have only removed some of the plastics recycling cages in the major cities, they’ve not removed all of the plastics recycling cages, and they’ve not removed any of the recycling bins in which people can recycle glass, metal paper and cardboard.)  

There were already too few recycling bins to adequately address the volume of glass, metal, plastics, paper and cardboard that commuters and tourists are going to be disposing of daily, and now there are even fewer bins for plastic items.  Specifically, the agencies within city governments which are responsible for placing recycling bins in public locations had placed recycling bins in parking lots, in public parks and on sidewalks in locations where the sidewalks are particularly wide as well as inside of the lobbies in schools, colleges, universities, government office buildings, there are recycling bins for public use in some shopping malls, in some medical buildings and in some of the visitor centers at tourist sites.  However, there are almost no recycling bins in airports, train stations, bus stations or in subway stations, and these are all areas in which commuters as well as tourists will frequently want to be disposing of empty glass, plastic and metal containers as well as newspapers.  

 As of December of 2022, the entire population of Israel is approximately 9 million people.  Israel is a relatively small country, and on average approximately 4.5 million tourists travel to Israel annually.  The vast majority of the tourists who travel to Israel will stay in hotels or in tourist hostels, and almost no hotels or hostels provide any bins for recycling.  This means that approximately 4.5 million people will be throwing out paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and metal items which are potentially recyclable.

Many people throughout the country had been complaining to their local municipalities that plastics recycling cages were attracting insects and rodents and furthermore, homeless people were also congregating at plastics recycling cages because they were collecting beverage bottles so that they could redeem them for the deposit refunds.  This was true, but there are quite a few ways that recycling bins can be designed so that they don’t attract insects and rodents.  And the removal of the plastics recycling cages did not actually stop homeless people from collecting empty beverage bottles so that they can return them for the refundable bottle deposits- instead of collecting beverage bottles from recycling bins, homeless people simply now collect them from garbage cans.

A Comparison

In every house, apartment building, office building, hotel, and factory throughout Israel that is connected to the municipal water system, the wastewater is filtered and subsequently sent back into the municipal water supply.  There are some countries in Europe as well as in Asia in which the systems for recycling wastewater are now becoming nearly as advanced as ours, and in the countries in which the governments are now funding the construction of very advanced systems for recycling municipal wastewater and greywater, those systems are being constructed partially based on technologies which were invented in Israel back in the 1980’s.

     Back in the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s, the population of Israel was rapidly expanding and it was becoming very obvious that the municipal water systems throughout the country which had been designed and constructed throughout the late 1940’s, the 1950’s and the 1960’s were not going to be adequate to supply the water that was going to be needed for the population of the country based on the statistics and estimates that the government had been projecting for the needs of the population of the country of the 1990’s.

 Back in the early 1980’s, the government opted to allocated funding for researching technologies that would enable to government to be able to continue to supply water for the country into the 21st century.  And after much research, engineers presented proposals to the government, which were eventually approved and by the end of the 1980’s, Israel possessed the most advanced system for recycling wastewater of any countries anywhere in the world.

 This was accomplished because it was becoming obvious that the country would be experiencing severe water shortages if the water systems which distribute water throughout the country were not modernized.  Under the peace treaty that the Israeli government had signed with the government of Jordan in 1994, the Israeli government supplies some of the water to Jordan and Israel also supplies some of the water supply in the West Bank.

By contrast, our system for recycling glass, plastics, cardboard, paper, metal and electronic waste is among the most inefficient that I’ve seen anywhere in the world.  Israelis obviously can effectively address issues relating to recycling when we want to make the effort to do so.  The reason that upgrading the system for recycling plastics, glass, metal, cardboard and paper products in towns and cities throughout Israel isn’t being adequately addressed is not due to lack of technologies which can easily solve this or due to a lack of funding, the issue isn’t being addressed because many people throughout Israel do not consider this issue to be a necessity.

How Can This Be Solved?

Of all of the issues that I’ve written about ever since I first began writing for The Pavlovic Today, this issue is probably the simplest to solve.  This is potentially impressively simple: the agencies within city governments and regional district councils which are responsible for placing recycling bins in public locations simply need to allocate funding for placing more (not fewer) recycling bins in public locations throughout Israel, and this needs to include all of the bus stations, train stations, light rail and subway stations, passenger terminals in airports as well as the waiting areas at the platforms for our cable car systems.  

With specific regard to plastics, new bins can easily designed so that they are closed on all sides, with openings only in the tops, similar to the kinds of plastics recycling bins that are commonly used in public locations throughout much of Europe and the U.S., thus solving the problem of insects and rodents which are attracted to the remaining plastics recycling cages which are currently installed in public locations throughout Israel.

The Ministry Of Transport is presently expanding the light rail and the subway systems in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, new commuter lines with many new stations are scheduled to open in both of those 2 cities throughout the 2020’s and in the early 2030’s.    

While many issues in Israeli politics are very complex, this issue is not.  Adding more recycling bins in public locations will mean that many thousands of tons of glass, plastic, metal, paper and cardboard will be recycled every year, and this will benefit everyone.

Why Is This Important?

Unlike the issue of potential severe water shortages which were avoided by politicians agreeing to allocate funding for the installation of wastewater filtration systems throughout Israel back in the 1980’s, there’s no impending shortages of glass, plastics, aluminum, cardboard and paper in Israel or in any other country in the world for that matter.  When there are too few bins available in public location, people are almost always going to throw their glass, plastic, metal, cardboard and paper products out, and then garbage is sent directly to landfills.

As landfills fill up, new landfills will need to be opened, and if new landfills need to be opened, there will be less land available for the creation of new wilderness areas, nature centers and wildlife refuges.  

Furthermore, while many kinds of glass, metal, cardboard and paper products are harmless when they are sent to landfills, with the exception of plastic products which are made from bioplastics, most plastic products leach toxic chemicals into the soil and groundwater when they are sent to landfills.  Recycling the products that I’ve mentioned throughout this article is also important because when these products are recycled, the base materials which are used to manufacture new bottles, cans, boxes and other containers will be coming from recycled sources, thus reducing the need to for the base materials to be mined or harvested by logging.  Glass is manufactured by heating certain kinds of sand mixed with other chemicals, the base materials for manufacturing cardboard and paper products comes from the logging industry, aluminum is mined and with the exception of bioplastics, most other plastics are derivative of petrochemicals.  When systems which make it easier for people to recycle glass, plastic, metal, cardboard and paper products are installed, there is less need to new raw materials to be mined or harvested from logging, thus enabling the ecosystems where these materials are being mined and harvested from to recover.   

 If the Knesset were to allocate the funds that would be needed for people who work for the Israel Ministry Of Environmental Protection to work closely with the Israel Ministry Of Transport on selecting locations for placing more recycling bins in public locations in cities throughout Israel, the resulting increase in the tons of materials which would be recycled annually will ultimately not only benefit people who live in Israel, this would benefit the entire world.

What Can You Do About This Issue?

The issue is not being ignored entirely.  Teachers in science classes in the elementary schools, the junior high schools and the high schools throughout Israel do attempt to explain to their students that recycling is necessary and there are displays in science museums about recycling, but this issue is a low priority for most Israelis and the vast majority of people throughout the country are not taking this issue at all seriously.

Politicians are not going to authorize allocating funding for the installation of more recycling bins in public locations throughout the country unless they’re aware that this is an issue which is important to many people, and politicians in Israel rarely attempt to address this issue.  If you’re a Pavlovic Today reader and you live or work in Israel, mention this issue to your local politicians.  If you have family members or friends who live or work in Israel, encourage them to discuss this with their local politicians, to candidates who are running for offices, to the media and to anyone who is willing to listen.  

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Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

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