Population growth, rising standards of living and changes in consumption patterns have resulted in the discharge of increasing quantities of waste into the environment worldwide. Each person in Israel produces some 1.6 kilograms of solid waste a day. The total quantity of waste produced in the country annually by a population of about 5.3 million is equal to 3.1 million tons with quantities increasing at an average rate of 2% yearly. In a country with meager land resources, on the one hand, and ever-increasing quantities of refuse, on the other hand, sound management of solid waste is imperative.

Solid Waste Disposal: An Historical Perspective

While plans for more effective disposal of solid waste date back some twenty years, solutions to the ever-growing problem have not been forthcoming. Until recently, the basis for government policy was rooted in the National Outline Scheme for Solid Waste Disposal, approved in 1989.

The rationale behind the masterplan was to minimize environmental pollution by operating a few large landfills serving as large a population as possible. However, the masterplan set no timetable for establishing new landfills nor for shutting down unauthorized dumps; it allowed for their continued use until an alternative was found. Moreover, the long and difficult statutory approval process for new landfills (requiring approval on the national, district and local levels) was further delayed due to local opposition. In the case of two nationally-approved central landfill sites (Ein Hashofet on the southern part of the Carmel mountains and Beit Guvrin on the southern coastal plain), the detailed approval process was halted at the local and district levels by the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome. As a result, detailed plans for authorized sanitary landfills were not approved in most areas, and over two-thirds of Israel’s population remained without a comprehensive solution to the problem of solid waste disposal.

In 1993, some 96% of Israel’s domestic waste was landfilled in about 400 waste dumps 29 of which received over 25 tons of waste per day. Most of the sites were poorly designed and managed; many had reached or are soon to reach full capacity with no alternative in sight. Some local authorities (e.g. Herzliya, Netanya, Hadera, Haifa, Petah Tikvah, Ra’anana, Kfar Sava and others) have already exhausted their landfill space and will soon have no solution for disposal. The most difficult problem lies in Hiriya, a landfill which receives about 2,500 tons of refuse a day from the Greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area. This landfill, which will soon reach full capacity, is plagued by the entire gamut of problems associated with improper waste disposal: potential contamination of water sources, stench, air pollution, aesthetic blight, and threats to flight safety due to the congregation of birds in the flight paths leading to Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Towards Environmentally-Sound Waste Management

Today, the outlook for solid waste management is no longer grim. In June 1993, the government took a landmark decision designed to expedite the establishment of central landfills, shut down hundreds of illegal waste dumps and create an infrastructure for environmentally-safe solid waste disposal both in the short and long terms. Specifically, the decision calls for closure of most of the country’s small garbage dumps within the next three years and for their replacement by a few authorized sanitary landfills, as follows:

* Two existing landfills Ashdod (in the southern coastal area) and Evron (in the Western Galilee) will be prepared and equipped to serve as regional sites on a temporary basis (about three years);

* Two existing landfills Duda’im (northwest of Beersheba) and Talya (in the northern Jordan Valley) will be improved according to strict environmental requirements and expanded within one year to serve as central sites for a significant part of the country’s waste, with the exception of hazardous waste;

* The Hiriya landfill, near Tel Aviv, will be closed by the end of 1995 and will subsequently be rehabilitated.

* Oron, a phosphate quarry (still in operation), in the center of the Negev, will be considered and checked as a central landfill for the long run.

In line with the government decision, the National Planning and Building Board approved a far-reaching amendment to the National Outline Scheme for Solid Waste Disposal in May 1994. The amendment gives expression to the government decision as follows: conversion of the existing landfills at Duda’im, Talya, Ashdod and Evron into central landfills and the addition of a central landfill at Oron, as a long-term alternative to the waste generated by the Tel Aviv metropolitan region. At the end of three years, the Ashdod landfill will be closed and Evron will be transformed once more into a local landfill. To accelerate the implementation of the amended masterplan, all of the new central sites will be subject to national planning at a detailed level, and will be accompanied by environmental impact statements.

The National Board also included the Kalanit site at Beit Guvrin, which met staunch opposition at the regional level of planning, among the sites destined for national planning at a detailed level. Another central landfill in Ein Hashofet is currently undergoing deliberations at the regional level of planning. All landfill sites which appear in the original masterplan will be required to adapt themselves to new state-of-the art standards in accordance with conditions stipulated by the Ministry of the Environment in their business licenses. Otherwise they will be slated for closure.

The original masterplan for solid waste disposal was based on the geographic division of the country into waste collection areas, each served by a solid waste disposal site. However, due to problems such as land scarcity and potential risks to groundwater, several geographical areas were not assigned landfills at all. The amended plan views the collection areas as guidelines only. Today, waste generated in any area will be able to be transported to any other area in order to ensure environmentally-safe disposal. Thus, with the closure of the Hiriya landfill (by December 31, 1995), the waste of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area will be transported nearly ninety kilometers southward to the Duda’im site just north of Beersheba.

The Implementation Process

An interministerial committee, headed by the director-general of the Ministry of the Environment, has already published tenders for two central sanitary landfills as a first step in implementing the revolutionary plan. The tenders relate to the planning, establishment, operation, closure and rehabilitation of the Duda’im and Talya landfills, based on state-of-the-art standards.

In the case of Talya, vigorous opposition to the landfill was originally voiced by nearby settlements based on fears that the landfill will generate odors, pollution and landscape damage. To deal with the problem, a collaborative conflict management approach was adopted by all parties. Discussions led to the adoption of a workable compromise whereby the Ministry of the Environment agreed to reduce the amount of waste transported to the Talya landfill to a maximum of 1,200 tons per day and to include adjacent communities in the entire process of environmental impact statement review and supervision over both waste transport and landfill operation.

All of the regional and central sites, along with other landfills included in the masterplan, will be established and operated according to professional guidelines prepared by the Ministry of the Environment so as to prevent environmental and health risks. They will include state-of-the-art technologies for every stage of landfilling from siting to post-closure, including sealing, leachate detection, collection, treatment and disposal, methane gas collection and use, proper covering of the waste during operation, closure procedures (landfill capping), and monitoring of possible contamination of groundwater during and after closure (up to 30 years).

The Ministries of the Environment and the Interior are responsible for closing and rehabilitating illegal dump sites and for ensuring that all of Israel’s solid waste will be discarded at authorized landfills. In 1993, 83 illegal dumps were closed; another 70 major sites are scheduled for closure over the next two years. It is estimated that by 1996, some 80% of the country’s waste will be safely discarded at environmentally-sound landfills.

A joint team including representatives of the Ministries of the Interior, Environment, Finance and the Israel Lands Authority will classify sites due for closure according to their economic value. Certain sites, such as Hiriya, may be transformed into parks; others will be rehabilitated and reused for other purposes. In sites where development is not economically feasible, the government will cover rehabilitation costs.

The Ministry of Finance has agreed to offset the increased cost of solid waste disposal which will result from longer transport distances and higher tipping fees. Financing by the Treasury will be based on a formula which will be determined according to financial calculations of the cost of transport plus tipping fee.

The Ministry of the Environment is currently determining priorities for closing down and rehabilitating unauthorized dumps, taking into account, inter alia, environmental and logistic considerations. Concomitantly, recycling projects are being promoted, and possibilities for incineration are being examined by an interministerial committee chaired by the Minister of Energy and Infrastructure.