Israel is turning 70 this week, in case you hadn’t heard. Amazingly, that’s four years younger than Mick Jagger. To celebrate, Miri Regev — Israel’s shy and unassuming culture minister — called for 70 hours of festivities, including 70 km (some 43 miles) of parties in beaches and parks. God only knows how much garbage will be created this Independence Day. Maybe 70,000 tons?

All over Israel, people are getting ready for a party. For over 70 percent of the population (probably much more), this will mean attending some kind of barbecue. Now, this is not an article about the rights and wrongs of eating meat, (grilled courgette, anyone?). My beef is with the sheer amount of plastic waste that will no doubt be left to pollute the country’s natural spaces.

Park HaYarkon, last week after a barbecue.

Plastic Places

Like every other year (and every other weekend), alpha males will take over the country’s parks with their family barbecues. Armed with lighter fluid and barbecue tongs, this army of middle-aged men is a formidable force. They bring with them cooler boxes filled with semi-frozen kebabs and chicken skewers wrapped in plastic, as well as plastic bags filled with plastic hummus tubs, plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic knives-and-forks and plastic plates.

You may ask, what’s wrong with that? Well, let’s take Tel Aviv’s Park Hayarkon as an example. This, the city’s largest green space, will be littered with one-time-use plastic and disposable barbecues burning out. The park has sufficient dustbins, but many people either don’t use them or overpile them so high with unnecessary garbage that much of the waste will get blown around or scavenged by birds.

The plastic problem doesn’t just end at the parks. All over the country, people at private parties in their homes, weddings, bar mitzvahs or ordering food daily from 10bis (a takeaway service), embrace the trend of using one-time packaging and utensils.

All this plastic creates mountains of waste, quite literally. The Ariel Sharon Park near Ben Gurion Airport is a man-made mountain that was once 25 million tons of landfill waste. It was dubbed an “environmental park,” but really it’s a huge waste dump with grass on top. Is this what Israel wants to be remembered for after 70 years? Plastic hills?

Waste Not, Want Not

On the TV and radio in Israel, we hear much about this remarkable nation’s achievements. The very fact that the country exists, following the Holocaust, is in itself a source of pride for many Jews (and non-Jews) around the globe. We often hear about Israel’s democracy, scientific achievements, its talented academics and artists, and, of course, the cherry tomato. Though it is important for the country to celebrate its history, many Israelis can see past the festivities.

According to The Times of Israel, this year’s celebrations will cost more than 100 million NIS ($30 million). Miri Regev said, “You won’t be bored,” as she outlined parades, light shows, air shows and much more. This may bring in the tourist buck for a while, but perhaps a more meaningful way to mark Israel’s 70th birthday would be to dedicate a new hospital? Maybe Israel at 70 could grant a well-deserved pay rise for nurses, social workers and teachers (who all get embarrassingly-low salaries).

Our politicians waste money, waste words and waste time (remember the peace process?), and this trickles down to the public. It’s the cynical “someone else will clean it up” mentality that causes us (me included) to take the planet and its future for granted.

And anyway, who has time to care about the environment when you have Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria on your doorstep?

Blue and White (and Green)

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Green issues are climbing the agenda, but progress is slow. Last year, Israeli supermarkets started charging 10 agorot for plastic bags. A survey by Globes showed that 42 percent of Israelis now use reusable shopping bags.

Tel Aviv claims to be a “green city” with its tree-planting programs, plastic bottle banks, city-wide bicycle scheme, urban farms and community gardens. But this is small-scale environmentalism.

Recycling needs to be wider spread and include more materials. Plus, recycling deals with the symptom and not the root of the waste problem — over-consumption and over-production.

Hilton Park in Tel Aviv overflowing with garbage.

So, this year I’m taking a small stand. My family and I are not going to use any one-time cutlery or plates. If we go to a barbecue, we’ll bring our own reusable Ikea plates from home. This small act may sound pathetic, but if everyone washed and re-used their plates, there’ll be 70% less waste, (okay, I made that statistic up).

The Bible says, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; cease to do evil, learn to do good.” (Isaiah 1:16). But if that’s too much to ask of modern Israel, then at least: “Wash up after yourselves, use a dishwasher, cease to use plastic, learn to use a sponge.”

In short, if Israel is a special country, then we should treat it as such. One day, instead of celebrating with plastic and shit, we could celebrate with peace and shalom.