Photo Credit: Sara Klatt/Flash90
Garbage dumped by visitors to the Judaean desert, October 26, 2019.

Almost every other person in Israel pollutes in nature. A full 45% of the public in Israel stated that they dumped garbage and polluted in nature at least once during 2020, according to a new study conducted by members of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Haifa.

“Israelis say about themselves that they didn’t see a trash can, while others are doing it because they enjoy making a mess,” said research student Naama Lev, who led the study. She explained: “Most people don’t tend to admit that they did something unacceptable by dumping waste, so it’s likely that the actual percentage of polluters is even greater the 45% figure”

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Public consumption keeps growing and with it the amount of non-degradable waste as well as the general amount of pollution in the public space. Dumping trash in streets, beaches, parks and nature reserves creates many socioeconomic and environmental problems, an aesthetic affront, soil and water pollution, damage to public health and the spread of diseases, damage to biodiversity, blockages in sewage systems, and the economic damage resulting from a decline in tourism, say the researchers, and note that a large part of this harm is caused by the dumping of personal waste in the public domain.

The study, based on Lev’s thesis, was supervised by researchers Prof. Ofira Ayalon from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resource Management and Dr. Mia Negev from the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa.

The researchers examined the perceptions of the Israeli public regarding the dumping of personal waste in nature sites and parks. The study involved 401 participants who visited a nature or a park site at least once during 2020. The results show that more than 90% of participants visited nature at least once in the past year. The same participants also love the clean nature and 98.5% of them see great importance in the level of cleanliness of sites they visit.

Israeli woman picking up trash in a forest near the Southern city of Ashkelon, September 29, 2014. / Edi Israel/FLASH90

Despite this, about 45% of respondents stated that they dumped waste and polluted nature at least once in the same year. The study also shows that waste dumpers come from all sexes, faiths, ages, and regions of Israel.

Still, young Haredi residents of the Jerusalem area stated that the frequency of dumping waste on their part is greater compared to others.

Study participants were asked to describe the types of waste they discarded as well as the types of waste that they saw other people discard. The study shows that people confessed to throwing away food scraps, wipes and toilet paper, and cigarette butts, and saw other people throwing away rubbish that included disposable utensils and large quantities of plastic bottles.

The item everyone has seen being discarded most often are cigarette butts.

“According to participants, there are types of waste, such as organic waste, toilet paper and wipes, which are considered legitimate for dumping in nature sites and parks in Israel,” the researchers said.

One study participant said that “cigarette filters for example, or things I thought were biodegradable, like sunflower seed shells, were small things that are bothersome to carry and they appear marginal.”

Another participant said that “there are a lot of cigarette butts because people treat it as biodegradable, ecological garbage.”

The researchers also examined perceptions about the causes of waste dumping at nature sites in the Israeli public and ways to reduce the phenomenon. When respondents were asked why they themselves dumped garbage in public places they gave answers such as “there was no trash can,” “the trash can was too far away,” “I didn’t pay attention,” etc.

When asked why they think other people dump rubbish, the reason that received the highest score was “for fun.”

“In fact, this waste dumping factor was not taken from the scientific literature, but came up in a brainstorming we conducted, based on early interviews,” the researchers said, adding, “and it turns out we were right: Israelis report that while they dumped their garbage because there was no trash can, others were doing it ‘just for fun.'”

“This suggests that, apparently, the waste dumping behavior is influenced by many factors and therefore the ways of dealing with the phenomenon should also be different and varied.

In the end, the researchers believe the most effective way to have an impact in preventing the phenomenon is enforcement and fines.”

“Decision makers attempting to deal with the phenomenon of waste dumping at nature sites and parks would do well to take into account the various characteristics of the phenomenon of personal waste dumping in nature in Israel. They must plan diverse actions which would match the great diversity of opinions and behavior among the Israeli public. Action in the usual ways such as enforcement, education and information, and improving infrastructure according to these characteristics, would allow for focus and accuracy, which would save resources and create a cleaner environment,” the researchers concluded, reiterating that “There’s a need to increase enforcement and fines, especially on the beaches and around the Kinneret as well as the open nature preserves – all areas that are perceived to attract more dumping.”

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