Cleaning Up Our Act: It Takes a Nation
By Yael Ilmer and Aya Tager
There’s no easy way to say it:
Israel has a serious litter problem.
Following national holidays and celebratory weekends, news reports always depict the same gruesome scenes of trash piled up in public parks and nature reserves. While these mountains of refuse are often the results of carelessness, a lack of sufficient infrastructure and trash collection and removal from nature sites is equally to blame. Even when hikers and picnicking families take the time to gather their trash, the lack of proper receptacles forces them to leave the bags in open areas, where they attract and are scattered by wild animals in search of food.
In addition to the serious aesthetic issues, trash in open areas causes ecological damage and harm to public health, poses a risk to wildlife, pollutes water sources, interrupts the ecological balance and accelerates the spread of disease. Still, the public continues to litter, ignoring the environmental effects of trash in nature and public areas, including the detrimental results of using single-use plastic, and the well-known facts about the damage to our own wellbeing.
This phenomenon is a reflection of many citizens' attitudes toward public spaces and open areas, as one who litters or is indifferent to the existence of litter in nature areas doesn't feel responsible or connected to his or her immediate environment.
Over the last year, SPNI studied the issue of public littering in depth, as well as the harm to public health and natural ecological systems caused by this widespread global phenomenon. The data shows that public littering has become so endemic in Israel that we have reached a stage of national emergency.
In order to successfully transform our culture of littering into one of responsibility towards nature and public areas, we must create, promote and implement a comprehensive plan that would harness the power of educational and awareness activities, as well as efficient law enforcement and interaction with the public on the ground. This exhaustive plan would also require the formation of a wide coalition of partners and stakeholders, with representatives from municipalities, local and national authorities, NGOs and the civilian population.
In this vein, SPNI is currently formulating a plan of action to change the existing situation, and we are aware of several grassroots movements that share our concern and have launched clean-up events and initiatives. In fact, we recently joined forces with an initiative led by a youth group that set out to collect a large amount of trash left behind at beaches and nature sites following the celebrations of Israel's Independence Day. To amplify the important example set by the youth group, SPNI placed an information stand on the beach and provided beachgoers with bags for trash collection. The response was positive, as sunbathers, swimmers and surfers cooperated, and beach cleanliness was dramatically improved.
Later that week, SPNI Youth Hiking Groups initiated and produced a clean-up event at a grove near the Soreq Stream that resembled a landfill due to a huge amount of trash left behind by partygoers. Students of all ages worked tirelessly to clean up the area, removing hundreds of bags full of trash from the grove.
The event continued throughout the following day at the Palmachim Beach, where the student leaders engaged with the public, explaining the damage caused by littering and the importance of properly disposing of trash.
It is certainly time to put an end to litter in Israel. The Government and Knesset must lead an integrated plan for a national solution, including the allocation of the funds required for its implementation. SPNI will continue to urge decision makers to pursue this goal, while acting on the ground, with support from a growing public movement, in order to eliminate litter and preserve Israel's unique nature and beautiful open areas.