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Israel's Urban Environment, 1948–1988
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Because of the National Planning Council's ostensible openness to envi-ronmental ideas, the EPS focused much of its energies on effecting change through national outline schemes and planning policies.[112] This hardly guaranteed success. For instance, solid waste and recycling had been picked by Marinov as a flagship issue, perhaps because these areas seemed a niche that the environmental service could easily occupy. A steering committee chaired by the Chief Engineer of the Ministry of Health, who was respon-sible for overseeing solid waste, oversaw the preparation of National Master Plan (TAMA) No. 16 for Disposal of Garbage. The forum was dom-inated by Green members. The EPS expert, Dr. Mordechai Lapidot, joined the other Interior representatives as well as the SPNI's Azariah Alon on the committee.[113] The master plan drafted reflected their environmental thinking.

Between 1973 and 1976 the steering committee gathered information. Their research showed that each Israeli produced a kilogram of trash every day. Israel's garbage continued to be very “wet” even during the summer months. Roughly 50 percent of the waste stream was in this biodegradable group; paper made up less than 20 percent of the trash, synthetic plastics 13 percent, and metals and glass together no more than 6 percent.[114]

The waste management strategy selected by the committee involved consolidating the hundreds of existing dumps into two national landfill sites and thirty smaller disposal areas. These would be fed by a series of transfer stations in local municipalities. Burial was in no way envisioned as the preferred treatment strategy. Rather, the plan was based on inte-grated waste management, which included recycling and incinerating ma-terials after they had been sorted by sanitation workers.[115]

Drafting a master plan and implementing it were two totally different matters. Only in January 1986, ten years later, did the National Planning

and Building Council approve Master Plan No. 16. For it to become legally binding, the approval of the Cabinet was required. This stage dragged on until 1989. The sixteen years that elapsed from the time information gath-ering was begun to the day that the Cabinet approved the plan under-mined the relevance of the strategy.[116] For example, when the original waste inventory took place, disposable diapers were unavailable. During the years that followed, the recycling and reuse sector had gone from bad to worse. With the exception of paper (about a quarter of which was recy-cled at the American-Israeli Hadera Paper Factories), everything was buried. During the 1970s, practically all beverage containers had been re-turnable, with consumers rewarded with the return of their deposit fee. By the 1980s, plastic ruled, and only a small fraction of wine and beer bottles were accepted for reuse or recycling. Israel's solid-waste habits and the ac-tual burial sites in no way corresponded to the plan that eventually was approved by the government.

With no legal basis for pressuring municipalities to take an environ-mental high road, these all found the cheapest possible way to bury their trash. (Only the small Haifa suburb of Tivon had a policy of separation and recycling, and that was due to an idiosyncratic mayor.) The result was a na-tionwide pathology of foul smells, groundwater pollution, and seasonal fires (spontaneous summer combustion as well as premeditated blazes). The conflagrations gave rise to horrible odors and emissions of deadly diox-ins.[117] The Hiriyah garbage dump was designated only as an emergency site under the Master Plan, but by the 1970s it assumed the role of a dubious Tel Aviv landmark. The birds attracted to the garbage threatened the safety of flights landing at Ben-Gurion Airport.[118] The mountain of trash threat-ened to topple onto the adjacent highways, which it eventually did during the winter rains of 1997.[119] Recycling and composting had missed the boat.

Disposal of hazardous waste was another part of the national strategy that got lost.[120] When the steering committee began its work, there was no facility anywhere in the country to receive toxic residues. It was assumed that these would be either buried in regular landfills or discharged into the sewage system. The results of thirty years of unaccounted dumping are still largely unknown, and construction crews increasingly stumble onto unpleasant toxic surprises buried in the ground.[121] Orphan sites in which hazardous chemicals were buried during those years periodically make an appearance. One prominent example of the phenomenon is a site in Beer Sheva north of the Machteshim chemical factory where the Dead Sea Bromine factory buried its wastes before it moved to the Ramat Hovav in-dustrial complex.[122] For more than a decade, no one has been willing to pay

for the cleanup of the abandoned acid and waste pits. It remains cordoned off, an eyesore that blocks development of an important area of the future metropolis and endangers train and sewage routes.[123],[124] The impact on the groundwater will probably not be benign.

Initially it seemed encouraging that a response to an impending hazardous-waste crisis would not have to wait for the formal approval res-olution of the entire solid-waste strategy. In November 1979 the Ramat Hovav hazardous-waste disposal facility opened its doors to receive the country's toxic residuals. The site, located twelve kilometers south of Beer Sheva, was selected because of its isolation, favorable wind direction, and apparent freedom from hydrological vulnerability.[125] It was part of an in-dustrial complex to which most of Beer Sheva's most-polluting industries were moved. The concept, promoted by the government planners, was to establish Ramat Hovav as a national treatment center for neutralizing and recycling chemicals prior to burial. The complex was run by a private cor-poration, and there were no clear laws defining acceptable treatment processes. It quickly became a dumping ground for a perilous cocktail of poisons.

The place was run negligently. Wastes often did not undergo pretreat-ment before arriving. Storage was improper, and toxic residues frequently went unlabeled. There was no serious monitoring of chemical composi-tion. Barrels grew rusty, and reactive materials were often stored together near cyanide deposits. It was a time bomb waiting to go off, and it did. On April 2, 1982, the site caught fire, and a toxic plume wafted over the city of Beer Sheva. The Ministry of Health immediately sought and received a court order to close the Ramat Hovav facility.[126]

An interministerial committee went back to the drawing board. Running a hazardous facility properly is not a profitable enterprise unless high prices are charged for disposal. It was therefore decided to vest the op-eration of the facility in the hands of a government corporation. To this end, the Mivneh Tasiyah (Industrial Building) Company was established in 1984 as a government subsidiary[127] and charged with constructing a neutralization facility and running the plant. The government was less ex-peditious about a six-million-dollar investment in a hazardous-waste treatment plant.[128] Finally in 1986 work began on such a facility, using French technology.

In 1987 twelve thousand tons of toxic materials arrived at the newly upgraded facility for disposal. By 1988 the amount had reached forty-four thousand tons, but it was thought to be only half the actual amount of the hazardous wastes generated in Israel.[129] The problem was partly

legal. Until 1990 there was no law requiring that hazardous wastes be sent to Ramat Hovav at all.[130] After such a regulation was passed, management again proved shoddy. A 1991 government committee branded Ramat Hovav's operation as criminally negligent.[131] Throughout the entire Ramat Hovav debacle, the Environmental Protection Service tried to play the role of watchdog. But its bark was feeble indeed as Israel stumbled along a never-ending series of toxic blunders.[132]

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