Israel faces an increasing solid waste problem, as rapid growth in population, industry and consumption create larger and larger quantities of waste. For each Israeli, 1.5 kg of solid waste is produced daily. The amount of solid waste is growing by over 2% annually.

A number of factors exacerbate Israel’s solid waste problems. First, Israel produces a large amount of putrescible organic waste, with a moisture content of about 50%. Second, the hot climate contributes to rapid decomposition, unacceptable odors and spontaneous combustion; thus waste must be treated quickly, as well as properly. Furthermore, because of the country’s small size, sanitary landfill sites must compete with other, often environmentally sensitive, land uses: aquifers, nature reserves, archeological sites, residential areas, industry and defense. Locating landfills far from these land uses creates additional problems like increased transportation costs, the need for transfer stations, and the administrative frictions involved in dealing with a multitude of local government agencies.

Management of Solid Waste

There are three distinct phases in the handling of solid waste: storage, collection and disposal. Although storage of waste continues to be a burdensome reality of modern daily life, experience has led to standards for volume and number of waste receptacles for each building type, and effective and sanitary maintenance. It is in the industrial sector that appropriate storage facilities most often are lacking.

The greatest problem by far is disposal. Methods used in Israel include sanitary landfills, recycling and incineration. The latter method used in some hospitals is currently less appealing for general use due to the relatively high moisture content of Israeli waste, and consequently its low calorific value.

Sanitary Landfills

Landfills represent the least expensive method of waste disposal in Israel, and 98% of the country’s waste is disposed of in this way. Sanitary landfill requirements are that solid waste must be compacted to minimum volume, then completely covered with at least 15 cm of earth. If properly maintained, a sanitary landfill does not present problems of vermin, visual intrusion or water pollution. Burning of waste is not permitted anywhere in Israel.

Problems related to effective disposal and treatment of solid waste led to the preparation of a National Outline Scheme for Solid Waste Disposal Sites in 1973. The scheme is based on a nationwide network of landfills supported by transfer stations for receiving solid wastes from collecting vehicles. The underlying principle is that there should be as few landfills as possible, and that each landfill should serve as many local authorities as possible. Transfer stations help diffuse the cost of transporting waste to distant landfills. The sites were selected based on criteria such as prevention of groundwater pollution, nuisance avoidance, and distance from urban centers and defense installations. The scheme designates additional areas for waste separation into components, material recovery, recycling industries, energy producing incinerators, and hazardous waste disposal and treatment.

The Ministry of the Environment has drafted a program expected to provide a practical solution to Israel’s landfill management problem. The plan calls for a reduction in the number of landfills from several hundred today to thirty well-maintained landfills within five years. Today, all proposals for the establishment of new landfill sites and for the expansion of existing sites are reviewed by an expert committee set up by the Ministry of the Environment. The committee was established to analyze different hydrogeological opinions on the suitability of certain locations for waste disposal. The committee’s recommendations are presented to planning authorities during the statutory approval process for waste disposal sites. Strict standards, including state-of-the-art technologies for every stage of the landfill process, from siting to planning to operation, closure and post-closure, are being prepared. Pollution prevention methods like sealing, leachate detection, collection, treatment and disposal, methane gas collection and use, proper covering of the waste during operation, landfill-capping, and groundwater monitoring will be put into practice.


Long distance transportation costs, as existing landfills reach capacity, and ever increasing requirements for high environmental standards in landfills, are expected to spur the move to recycling technologies.

Four studies have been undertaken in recent years to investigate the economic, environmental and technological feasibility of recycling different components of waste in Israel, specifically paper and cardboard, plastic containers, glass and tires. Each one of these studies concluded that collection and recycling of these materials makes environmental and economic sense. Recycling would mean savings in foreign currency investments for the import of raw materials, reduction of costs for the collection and disposal of waste, increasing the life of existing landfills, and reducing environmental nuisances. The studies reveal that increased production in existing recycling plants is possible, but that the bottleneck lies mainly in collection, transportation and marketing.

Surveys on the composition of solid waste in Israel estimate the composition of domestic waste (by weight) as follows: 50-54% organic material; 16-21% paper and cardboard; 10-12% plastic and synthetic material; 3-5.5% metals; 3-5% glass, 3-4% textiles; and 0-15% miscellaneous (Figure 27). Theoretically, all components of solid waste can be recycled. Israel’s goal is to achieve 25% recycling by 1995 and 40-50% by the year 2000.

The only place in Israel where recycling of all components of waste is undertaken commercially is in a plant in Afula in the north operated by Amnir Recycling Industries, where waste is collected from five medium-sized towns and a regional council, with a total population of 150,000. The $2.5 million facility began operating in 1989, and by 1991 was recycling half of the 80,000 tons of waste collected, for compost and for use by the paper, plastics and glass industries. Amnir has initiated studies into the use of refuse-derived fuel (RDF), which would enable the company to reach its goal of 75% recycling. The experience gained in Afula, supplemented by the various initiatives currently being implemented throughout the country, will offer excellent guidance on the handling, disposal and treatment of Israeli waste in coming years.

– Paper

Paper recycling has progressed farther than any other in Israel. In 1991, some 505,000 tons of paper and cardboard were used in Israel; of this, 300,000 tons were imported. Amnir Recycling Industries (a subsidiary of American-Israel Paper Mills, Ltd.) collected 112,000 tons during the same period about 69% of all local cardboard and paper production. An additional 30,000 tons of paper and cardboard waste were imported into Israel for recycling (Figure 28). Separation at source is not mandated by law for waste paper, but many Israeli households do separate paper, depositing it into special containers located in residential neighborhoods, office complexes and markets. Since 20% of the total weight of solid waste, and about 30% of its volume, is paper and cardboard, high priority should be accorded to reducing, collecting and recycling this component.

– Plastics

Plastics are another area where rapid progress toward more comprehensive recycling has been made. Total plastic consumption in Israel is about 250,000 tons/year, produced by hundreds of industrial plants throughout the country. Production and consumption of plastics is expected to grow significantly in the next few years. A study undertaken by the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in 1991 estimated that the average Israeli already consumes about 68 kg of plastic material per year, up from 57 kg two years before. By 1995, every Israeli will be consuming as much as 80 kg of plastics yearly. Last year, 15,000 tons of thermo-plastic materials were recycled in Israel, about 80% of that from local sources, the rest imported.

Thirty-five percent of plastic production goes to packaging materials, with the remaining 65% divided between agriculture, construction, industry, etc. Plastic containers amount to 25,500 tons/year. Nearly half of this (13,000 tons) is PET, a material not yet recycled in Israel. In light of the fact that some 430 million liters of light beverages and water (out of a total 650 million liters) are bottled in plastic containers, Israel is now looking into expanding the collection and recycling of plastic beverage containers. Industries are being encouraged to manufacture each product from the least number of components (preferably one), and legislation has been proposed calling for the marking of plastic containers with codes and emblems to facilitate recycling.

In the agricultural sector, about 15% (6,000 tons/year) of used polyethylene sheets and pipes are recycled by Amnir.

In 1991, Amnir established a plastics recycling plant in Hadera. This is the first plant in Israel that is able to provide an industrial solution to recycling plastics recovered from solid waste from the domestic, industrial and agricultural sectors.

– Metals

Metal recycling is also expanding. Israel’s steel mills produce about 250,000 tons of various grades of steel yearly. In 1989, 100,000 tons of this were recycled from iron scrap; but by 1991, 177,000 tons were recycled. A recent national tender for the collection, compaction and shredding of scrap metal promises greater and greater capacity for metal recycling. Increased metal recycling will be a boon for the environment and society, since it is likely to help rid the countryside of the 50,000 vehicles that are wrecked annually. If domestic waste were separated at source, 45,000 tons of tin cans could be recovered annually.

– Glass

Glass recycling in Israel accounts for less than 1% of the 100,000 tons consumed annually. Potential for recycling is great – – about 60%. Today glass is recycled only in one location, the Phoenicia plant in Yeruham in southern Israel. The feasibility study on glass concluded that recycling could save $40-50/ton in raw materials, in addition to savings in energy costs and extension of landfill life. Reuse of glass containers is another option. About 30 million liters of beer (62 million bottles) are re- deposited annually a 90% rate of return.

– Yard Waste

Finally, chopping and reuse of yard waste, including brush, leaves, grass clippings and small tree trunks, is currently on the agenda. This kind of waste amounts to 550,000 tons annually in Israel, between 5 and 10 million cubic meters in volume. The transport and burial of such waste, unchopped, is costly and hazardous, as it increases the risk of fire in sanitary landfills. Research to find alternative uses (energy production, plywood, substitute for sawdust and straw for animal bedding, compost and mulching) is now being conducted.

Legal Framework for Solid Waste Management

The National Outline Scheme for Solid Waste Disposal Sites (1973) continues to provide the legislative basis for solid waste management today. Storage and collection of solid waste is regulated under specific municipal by-laws for each municipality. Regulations promulgated under the Planning and Building Law set out the size and type of waste containers required, as well as the size and type of construction necessary to house these containers. There are no regulations defining proper methods for collecting, handling or transporting solid waste.

The Maintenance of Cleanliness Law, 1984, has led to new initiatives and greater awareness of cleanliness in Israel. This law forbids the throwing of waste, construction debris and vehicle scrap into the public domain, or from the public domain into the private domain. The law also prohibits littering. It provides that construction debris and vehicle scrap may be disposed of only in special disposal sites designated by the local authorities; and each authority is required to establish such a site. Owners and drivers of public and commercial vehicles must affix signs in their vehicles indicating that throwing waste is prohibited. Producers and importers of beverage containers must print or affix on these containers a notice concerning their proper disposal.

The law establishes a Cleanliness Fund, administered by the Ministry of the Environment, aimed at concentrating the financial means for maintenance of cleanliness, prevention of littering, and sponsoring of educational and enforcement programs.

An innovative and effective feature of enforcement of the cleanliness law consists in the appointment of cleanliness inspectors from among governmental and public agencies, and cleanliness trustees from the general public. This extraordinary legal step was taken to emphasize the educational character of the law, and its effect on the entire population. Despite problems arising from the granting of inspection and enforcement powers to a large number of volunteers, the system has proven successful. Altogether, 30,000 inspectors and trustees have been appointed by the Minister of the Environment. Together with the police, they issue 1,000 tickets monthly.

Regulations have been promulgated under the cleanliness law which impose a fee on manufacturers and importers of disposable beverage containers. This fee is one of the major contributors to the Cleanliness Fund, along with fines paid by violators of the law. A 1991 amendment to the law broadens its applicability to cover waste thrown from a vessel. It broadens the definition of littering to include the illegal pasting or hanging of notices and announcements.

Within the framework of the Abatement of Nuisances Law, 1961, regulations for the prevention of odors and air pollution from solid waste disposal sites were promulgated in 1990. These regulations prohibit the burning of waste at solid waste disposal sites, and call on operators to take all necessary means to prevent such burning.