“Welcome to a waste-free zone,” read the sign in Slovenia. The sign marked the entrance to a pop-up outdoor food market at Lake Bled, one of the most popular tourist spots in this picture-perfect Alpine country in Eastern Europe. After eating a few very non-vegan hot dogs, my small family were instructed to put our biodegradable plates and forks into some marked containers at the exit. Although many people were eating from these food stands, when I glanced back I noticed something strange – there was not one tiny bit of rubbish (that’s real English for ‘garbage’) in the whole market. So simple.
In fact, all over Slovenia, even in the capital city of Ljubljana, I didn’t notice any litter (that’s the Queen’s English). Remarkable. Jack Kerouac once wrote, “Comparisons are odious” but I couldn’t help odiously comparing Slovenia to my home town of Tel Aviv. Here, and indeed all over Israel and the Palestinian Territories, you’ll barely find a street corner without some trash (Ok, I gave in and used American English). Tel Avivians on the move tend to empty the contents of their apartment on the street, hoping by passers will pick up their leftover ‘treasures’ of cracked Patrick Swayze DVDs, out-of-order televisions, 1990s Lonely Planet guides and never-opened Rick Ashley CDs. (I admit I’ve never seen Rick Ashley CDs on the street and if I had, I would probably be quite chuffed). But the point remains that our beloved Tel Aviv is… well… a bit of a dump. It’s a lively, authentic, and hip dump, but still a dump nonetheless. Isn’t it time we cleaned it up?
According to the Ministry of Environment Protection, some 75% of Israel’s waste ends up in landfill sites and just 25% is recycled. While Slovenia recycles 54% of its waste, making it the third cleanest country in Europe after Germany (66%) and Austria (56%).
Anyone who lives in Tel Aviv-Jaffa knows it’s a crazy time right now with the construction of the light rail, plus a never-ending cycle of infrastructure and renovation work going on across the city. Sometimes it seems as if the city has simply given up on being presentable, or at least for the next five years. It’s like a middle-aged man who’s ‘letting go’. The local logic must be that if the whole city has become a building site, then why not treat it like one?
I live on what real estate agents claim is ‘the best street in Tel Aviv’ (there are approximately 115 of these). Yet, on any given day I could step outside my front door and be greeted with my neighbour’s half-eaten chicken legs, used tampons, and smashed glass. This is on top of the ingrained dog excrement (‘dog shit’ in plain English) that means the ‘four-second rule’ can never apply in Tel Aviv. Tip: If you accidentally drop some food on the pavement, best not to eat it.
Don’t get me wrong – Tel Aviv’s Municipality (who we pay a substantial amount of tax every month so they can do ‘fun’ things like light-up City Hall as a game of Tetris) does have an environmental unit and regularly collects rubbish. You don’t need an alarm clock in Tel Aviv as the noisy rubbish trucks and workers shouting will happily wake you up at 5:30am. So the problem isn’t the rubbish trucks. The problem is mixed rubbish and the sheer amount of packaging. It could be said that the three ‘P’s of packaging, petrol and poop are causing most of Tel Aviv’s pollution.
Now, even Donald Trump can’t deny the world is becoming increasingly polluted. Even if the tycoon-president doesn’t believe in global warming (I should add that 2017 was the hottest year ever-recorded in Slovenia), even he could agree that the planet has become more polluted in his lifetime. Our forests, seas, rivers, lakes, coral reefs, beaches and more are becoming increasingly dirty. There are many factors contributing to this but let’s look at just one – packaging.
Many Israeli hi-tech companies provide their employees with 10bis cards. In case you don’t know what 10bis is, it’s subsidized or free food that can be ordered online from a network of participating restaurants. I’ve worked in a few hi-tech companies and have always been astounded at just how much waste is created at lunchtimes and the amount of unnecessary one-time-use packaging that comes with takeaway food. As an example, a hamburger from the Wolfnights chain comes with enough cardboard to build a little house. Over-packaging is not only Israel’s filthy habit. It’s found all over the world. But the difference is that in the Holy Land, there’s a distinct lack of recycling facilities.
In Tel Aviv most apartment buildings have two green dustbins for general waste and, if you’re lucky, a blue bin for paper. Plastic bottles can be deposited at recycling points but what about other materials such as glass, cardboard, aluminum, mixed packaging, biodegradables and compost? Even in the UK, admittedly not the eco-friendliest nation on earth, most local councils now supply residents with bins to separate rubbish for recycling. My own parents who live in Cambridge, knew absolutely nothing about the environment just 15 years ago, now religiously recycle almost everything, have a compost heap, grow their own organic vegetables and collect rain water from their roof for watering plants in the garden. Though Israel is a global innovator on drip irrigation and reverse osmosis (desalinating sea water), it is far behind when it comes to waste management.
Israel does have some forward-thinking eco-kibbutzim such as Kibbutz Lotan, Ketura and Samar in the Negev and some worthy environmental NGOs such as Adam Teva and Eco Peace. Yet, when it comes to green living and responsible tourism, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Perhaps, we in the Middle East have wasted so much time and money on war that we have none to fight the war on waste.
Lovely Slovenia is winning its war on waste. The country’s nature parks, mountains, and villages, are immaculately kept. Its streets are clean, its freshwater lakes are crystal clear and its waterfalls are protected from bathers. Slovenian people seemed notably chilled out. Who knows, if we could make Israel a more sustainable environment then maybe it would be a more peaceful environment? Then Israel’s incurable dreamers could declare their country a ‘waste-free’ and a ‘war-free’ zone.
Read more info on Zero Waste here.