TOWARD BETTER WASTE MANAGEMENT
If one were to spread the waste produced in Israel annually on the ground, it would fill a box with the following dimensions: 1 meter X 2846 meters X 2846 meters – or 1800 soccer fields filled with waste 1 meter high. 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.
Population growth, rising standards of living and changes in consumption patterns have resulted in the discharge of increased quantities of waste into the environment worldwide. In Israel, the quantity and volume of solid waste are growing by over 2% annually. Each person in this country now produces some 1.5 kilograms of solid waste a day. The total quantity of waste produced in Israel annually, by a population of about 5 million people, is equal to 2.7 million tons.
The Landfill Solution
Awareness of the need for effective treatment of solid waste dates back to 1973 when the Ministries of the Interior and Health, in cooperation with other bodies, established a steering committee to guide the preparation of a National Outline Scheme for Solid Waste Disposal Sites. The scheme, approved in 1985, is based on the geographic division of the country into waste collection areas, each served by a solid waste disposal site. The outline scheme proposed 19 landfill sites, two of which (Bet Guvrin in the southern Judean Foothills and Menahemiyya southwest of Lake Kinneret) are designated as central national sites and the remaining as local waste disposal sites for the short term. Due to such problems as scarcity of available land resources or contamination risk to groundwater, ten of the geographical areas were not assigned landfills. Seven additional sites were designated for alternative treatment (incineration and recycling), one site was designated for emergency use (Hiriya) and one was designated as the central site for the disposal and treatment of hazardous waste (Ramat Hovav).
Of the 19 landfills designated in the masterplan, 12 are in operation today but several are already reaching capacity requiring alternative sites for future use. Plans are on the drawing board for two central sites to serve the country, in Bet Guvrin and Ein Hashofet. Bet Guvrin, designated to replace Hiriya, will serve the area from Netanya to Kiryat Gat, which produces some 53% of the total solid waste in Israel. Meanwhile, though, Hiriya continues to operate as Israel’s largest landfill, receiving about 2,500 tons of refuse a day from the Greater Tel Aviv area. Ein Hashofet, near the Jezreel Valley, will serve the Haifa and northern area. A third central site is already operational in Menahemiyya, in the Jordan Valley.
On the Road to Better Maintained Landfills
The policy of the Ministry of the Environment is to reduce the total number of landfills from several hundred today to 30 well- maintained landfills within five years. In order to accomplish its goal, a plan of action has been formulated utilizing all levels of the Ministry. As a first step, on the district level, masterplans for solid waste disposal and treatment have been prepared. The current status of solid waste collection, disposal and treatment is being investigated and mapped in each district. The compiled data will then be integrated into the Geographical Information System of the Ministry of the Environment.
Upon completion of the inventory, documentation and mapping stages, detailed plans will be formulated for closing certain sites and improving and regulating others, in accordance to a scale of priorities, timetables and means of enforcement. This will be effected with the aid of environmental units in local authorities.
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 expert committee was set up to analyze differing hydrogeological opinions on the capability of certain areas to serve as waste disposal sites. Recommendations are presented to planning authorities during the statutory approval process for waste disposal sites.
Furthermore, while in the past, the key factor which impacted the location of landfill sites was the possibility of groundwater contamination, today, the natural hydrological infrastructure no longer constitutes the sole consideration. Strict standards including state of the art technologies for every stage of landfilling from siting, planning, establishment and operation to closure and post-closure are being prepared. All methods available for pollution prevention will be put into practice including sealing (with the intention of moving to stricter requirements such as double lining), leachate detection, collection, treatment and disposal, methane gas collection and use, proper covering of the waste during operation, closure procedures (landfill cap), and monitoring of possible contamination of groundwater during and after closure.
Technical guidelines governing the management of disposal sites are currently being completed and will be distributed among professionals in the field. Environmental hearings are planned to provide opportunities for comments and feedback on the various aspects of environmental landfill standards to facilitate the formulation of optimal guidelines and requirements.
The Recycling Option
The current problems revolving around solid waste disposal in Israel, namely growing quantities of wastes, inadequate land reserves, risks of groundwater contamination, and the high percentage of organic matter in domestic waste will be exacerbated in the future by long distance transportation costs as existing local landfills reach capacity and ever increasing requirements for high environmental standards in landfilling. These additional factors are expected to increase the cost of solid waste disposal from a mere $2-4 today to up to $50/ton including tipping fee and transportation costs in the future. Calculation of the true economic and environmental costs of landfilling is expected to facilitate the move to low or non- waste technologies and to encourage the implementation of reduction, reuse and recycling options.
To facilitate these developments, Israel is working in various directions, from education and information to research and legislation. One initiative focuses on recycling projects in local authorities. Pilot facilities for separation of waste at source have been set up in commercial centers and on school premises in a few local authorities in Israel. Data for 1991, compiled in one such authority, Kiryat Tivon, showed that of the 450 tons of waste produced per month, some 8.5% of the waste by weight or 26% of the volume is recycled. Since separation at source is not yet required by law, the educational aspect was introduced at the early stages of the project with the very decision to establish several of the recycling centers on school premises. A curriculum was concomitantly created to teach actual waste disposal and recycling techniques in the school system and information campaigns were launched to emphasize the contribution of separation at source to the national economy and ultimately to the individual himself.
On the legislative front, two bills have been presented to the Knesset for approval. One private member’s bill, already approved in first reading, relates to separation at source for recycling purposes. Another regulation, recently transferred to the Knesset Committee on the Interior and Environmental Quality, prohibits the burning of plastic sheets used in greenhouses in the field and requires their collection at the edge of the field for recycling or their transport by the owner to a landfill. Other regulations, at various stages of preparation or consideration, include: a requirement to have manufacturers mark products with the accepted universal code indicating type of material, especially plastics (i.e. HDPE, PET, PVC , etc.) as well as the appropriate emblem symbolizing recyclable or recycled material; bans on the introduction of scrap tires or unchopped yard waste into sanitary landfills; a deposit law for returnable containers and bottles; and a comprehensive recycling law requiring reduction, reuse and recycling of all packaging materials along the entire chain from producer to consumer.
On the research front, four feasibility 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. All the feasibility studies conclude that collection and recycling make economic as well as environmental sense, saving foreign currency investments in the import of raw materials, reducing costs for 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.
A comprehensive data bank containing information on all aspects of recycling is currently being compiled in the Ministry of the Environment.
Some Facts and Figures on Recycling
Today, 98% of domestic waste in Israel is buried in landfills, but it is expected that within a decade or two, recycling and incineration will increase significantly for the following reasons:
– even the most well-planned and maintained sites, such as the proposed Bet Guvrin landfill, are designated for use for only 20-30 years;
– the availability of new landfill sites will continue to diminish thus increasing the distance between sanitary landfills and the source of the waste;
– the opening of new sites will become much more costly as technological means are undertaken to avoid contamination risks.
Due to the high moisture content of Israeli waste (50-55%) and consequently its low calorific value, recycling appears to be a better solution than incineration.
Comprehensive surveys on the composition of solid waste in Israel have not been conducted in recent years, but the estimated composition of domestic waste in Israel, according to weight is 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; 0-15% miscellaneaous. Theoretically, all components of solid waste can be recycled. Practically, in the first stage, the goal is to reach 25% recycling by 1995 and approximately 40-50% by 2000.
In 1991, some 505,000 tons of paper and cardboard were used in Israel, of which 300,000 tons were imported. The quantity collected for recycling by Amnir Recycling Industries, a subsidiary of American-Israel Paper Mills Ltd., was 112,000. This constituted about 69% of the total local production of paper and cardboard. An additional 30 tons of paper and cardboard waste were imported into Israel in 1991 at a cost of about $125/ton.
While separation at source of waste paper is not yet mandated by law, paper is the only component of waste separated at source by Israeli households throughout the country using special disposal containers located in residential neighborhoods, office centers and wholesale markets. In consideration of the fact that some 20% of the total weight of solid waste and about 30% of its volume is paper and cardboard waste, it is clear that high priority should be accorded to reducing, collecting and recycling this component.
In order to stimulate collection and recycling of paper, special efforts are currently devoted to encouraging paper collection, on the one hand, and purchase of recycled paper, on the other hand, in government offices. A guidebook on recycling paper waste in offices is currently being distributed among government ministries in order to accelerate separation at source within this sector. In light of the fact that over 90% of all waste generated by offices is good quality paper waste, the idea is to follow the government campaign with recycling projects in local authorities and business offices.
Total plastic consumption in Israel is estimated at 250,000 tons/year, produced by hundreds of industrial plants throughout the country. In light of the quick annual growth of this industry and the accelerated rate of population growth in the country, this number is expected to increase significantly in the near future. In fact, a recent study undertaken by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology – claims that the average Israeli already consumes about 68 kilograms of plastic material per year as compared to 57 kg two years ago and an estimated 80 kg three years from now. In 1991, the plastics industry recycled about 15,000 tons of thermo-plastic materials, of which 80% constituted local materials and the rest was imported.
A significant percentage of total plastic production (35%) is designated for packaging materials with the rest divided between materials for agriculture, construction, industry, etc. In the agricultural sector, about 15% (some 6000 tons/year) of the polyethylene sheets and pipes used are recycled by Amnir. The total quantity of plastic containers produced is 25,500 tons per year, of which 13,000 are P.E.T., 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 of 650 million liters) are bottled in plastic containers, the country is now investing special efforts in expanding the collection and recycling of plastic beverage containers. For this purpose, industries are 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 the appropriate codes and emblems to facilitate recycling.
In 1991, Amnir invested in a plastics recycling plant in Hadera. Establishment of this plant has transformed Amnir into the first plant in Israel able to give an industrial solution to recycling plastics recovered from solid waste from the domestic, industrial and agricultural sectors.
Israel’s steel mills produce about 250,000 tons of different grades of steel annually, of which 177,000 tons were recycled in 1991 following the collection of iron scrap. With the entrance into the market of a second steel mill in recent years, recycled quantities have increased from 100,000 tons in 1989 to 135,000 in 1990 to 177,000 in 1991. Additional collection and recycling of metal will be facilitated in the near future following a national tender for the collection, compaction and shredding of scrap metal. In addition to increasing metal recycling, the new plant will help rid the country of the visual blight of some 50,000 wrecked vehicles annually. Finally, statistics reveal that some 45,000 tons of tin cans may be recovered from domestic waste annually.
Annual consumption of glass stands at about 100,000 tons with a recycling potential of about 60,000 tons per year. In reality, less than 1% of the country’s glass is recycled. The Phoenicia plant, located in Yeruham in the south of Israel, is the only plant capable of glass recycling at present. However, feasibility studies show that despite the high cost of transportation, glass recycling would be profitably given the fact that the majority of glass containers are concentrated in entertainement centers thus facilitating collection. An economic feasibility study revealed that glass recycling can lead to a savings in raw materials at a value of $40-50 per ton of recycled glass in addition to substantial savings in energy costs. Local experience with returnable beer bottles shows that a glass container can last 10-15 years before reaching the landfill. Today about 30 million liters of beer in 62 million bottles use the deposit system with a 90% return rate.
In yet another area, it is estimated that about 550,000 of yard waste, including brush, leaves, grass clippings and small trunks, are produced in the rural, public and urban sectors yearly, constituting between 5-10 million cubic meters in volume. Transport and burial of unchopped yard waste is both costly and hazardous, due to the risk of fire in sanitary landfills. Chopping of this waste to reduce volume and encouragement of research into alternative uses (energy production, plywood, substitute for sawdust and straw for animal bedding, compost and mulching) are currently on the agenda. Most promising for immediate use is mulching because of its water saving capacity (about 50%), added savings in herbicide use and soil cultivation, more vigorous growth, moderate temperature changes and prevention of soil erosion.
Commercial recycling is now undertaken in Amnir’s Afula plant (NAAM) in northern Israel which collects waste from five middle- sized towns and a regional council (Nazareth, Upper Nazareth, Afula, Migdal Ha’Emek, Yokneam and the Gilboa Regional Council) with a total population of 150,000. The $2.5 million facility began operating in 1989 for the purpose of separating and recycling compost, cardboard, paper, organic materials, plastics and metals. Current data on the composition of waste received in Afula is as follows: 50% organic matter, 16% paper and cardboard, 10% glass, 1-4% glass, depending on season, 3% metal, 2% disposable diapers and 15% miscellaneous. In 1991, Amnir’s Afula plant recycled some 50% of the 80,000 tons of waste it collected for compost and for use by the paper, plastic and glass industries. Concurrently, Amnir has initiated studies into the use of Refuse Derived Fuel. The company estimates that use of RDF will enable the plant to reach the target rate of 76% recycling.
The experience gained in Afula, supplemented by the various intiatives currently being implemented throughout the country, will offer excellent guidance on the handling, disposal and treatment of Israeli waste in coming years. By the year 2000, these initiatives should lead to a definite trend of reduction in the amount of solid waste produced and to increased reuse and recycling of existing products. Domestic households and businesses will be obligated to "separate at source" and for this purpose containers for recyclable materials will be made available. The main incentive for separation at source may be differencial fees which will obligate the waste producer to pay for disposal in accordance to the amounts of waste produced.
Facilities for reducing the volume of waste by crushing or compacting will be placed in residential buildings and in businesses and the deposit system on packaging will be expanded.
A successful recycling program can be a major part of the solution to the solid waste problem, which in turn will help protect Israel’s precious groundwater and land reserves. The four "Rs" – reduction, reuse, recycling and resource recovery – are no longer optional; they are imperative.