Garbage makes for great mindfulness

Late October, while the girls and I were tinkering in the kitchen around dinner time, someone knocked at the door.

“Mi ze?” I asked before opening. Usually anyone other than our family of five buzzes at the gate, which connects to our phone, alerting us to visitors, and we buzz them in. Sometimes, though, certain family members accidentally leave the gate open so anyone can come to our door.

All I heard from the other side of our heavy metal door was the word iriya, which means municipality. Since we are in the midst of building a pool in our backyard and the city can at any time inspect to make sure everything is going according to plan, I assumed the uninvited guest was a pool-related city employee.

When I opened the door, an animated young man dressed in a muddy brown shirt stood before me, holding a clipboard in one hand and a similar muddy brown canister in the other. Again I asked who he was. He quickly rattled off his official title, but the only words I caught were mahzor (recycling) and compost. And then the light bulb went off in my English-thinking brain and I understood: he was a volunteer with the city helping everyone go green. As of that night, he told us, we were obliged to save all our food scraps in the canister he was carrying, and, as of the following week, the city would be delivering a separate muddy brown garbage bin, where we were to dump our mini-compost bins and which would be picked up on a weekly basis. He extended his arm for me to take the can from him. “Cool,” the girls chimed in from behind me. My parents had been forced to compost in California for years now, and we knew it.

“Toda aval ha tseva lo olech im hamitbach shelanu,” I thanked him but joked that the dirt brown color didn’t go with our white IKEA kitchen and burgundy red countertop. He smiled and said he couldn’t help me with that.

“Ifshar le’hicaness ve latet lach shealon?” he asked if he could come in to fill out a questionnaire. I motioned for him to enter and sit at the island.

The three of us sat opposite him and listened. He held out the form for me, but when I told him I could barely read the Hebrew, understand the questions or write due to an injury, he said he would fill it in for me. First it asked our ages and occupations and level of education, as well as how many kids lived at home and their ages. Then it asked if we are aware of the recycling enclosures near us—one for paper, one for cardboard boxes and another for plastic. What did we do with our old clothes and did we know there were a few large bins around the city to donate them? What about old shoes? And batteries? Had we ever heard of composting? I explained we were from California, where recycling is a way of living and law.

The difference, though, between recycling there and here is that in the former, the city provides and empties the bins, whereas in the latter, only the die hards recycle because the effort is great. The enclosures, which resemble oversized animal cages, are set up on the city sidewalks every few blocks. For us, the closest cages are two blocks away, which means we have to drive to dump. I remember last year when Philippe and I were breaking down moving boxes, loading them into the car, driving them over and unloading the car, box by box. Someone drove by and screamed, “Kol hakavod,” something to the effect of “good job!”. To recycle in Israel requires a level of mindfulness that goes above and beyond our American ways.

As for composting, the truth is we had been partially practicing it for weeks. Every morning, since we came back from our summer travels, Philippe has been making either a juice or a smoothie. The peels and pits and stems add up and eventually stink if left in the regular kitchen garbage. Already during the labor intensive prep work, we had been putting the waste into a separate plastic bag, later tossing it into the regular garbage can. Now, though, thanks to the city-designated compost bins, we would do the follow-through and were thrilled.

The good news is the recycling effort isn’t limited to Raanana.  In the center of the country, an amazing project is underway. Called Hiriya, the flat flood plain has been receiving the country’s refusesince 1952 until, gradually, a mountain of trash grew in its center. Finally, 12 years ago, the Ministry of Environmental Protection decided to stop the trash flow and turn one of the most polluted sites in the country into a model of environmental sustainability.

Hiriya or Garbage Mountain

Thus far,  thanks to the German architect Peter Latz’s vision for the site “three recycling plants operate at the foot of the mound, methane bio-gas from the mountain powers a nearby textile company, an environmental education center has been set up, and the area around the center has been landscaped, including a reed bed to treat wastewater. Hiriya also houses the largest waste transfer station in the Middle East.” The transformation of the dumping ground into a recycling park is already visitor friendly.

Yesterday, when Simone came home from school telling me that they are hoping to go on a class field trip, I suggested Hiriya. She asked what they can do there, but I didn’t know much until I did some research and read there will eventually be a walking and biking path, orchards and groves, a climbing wall and café. It will be Israel’s illustration of recycling and what I think of as mindfulness to the max!

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2 Responses to “Garbage makes for great mindfulness”

  1. Mom/Grandma Marianne December 3, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Very interesting research! As Cousin Yossi explained to me several years ago, the US has been around a long time and Israel is a young country. It will take some time to catch up in the environmental department and it sounds like its really trying. Kol Hakavod to Israel as the person driving by said to you and Philippe! love…

    • Jennifer Lang December 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      That makes sense indeed! For whatever reason, we were the first neighborhood in Raanana to be targeted but now we are seeing the brown cans everywhere. It’s about time.

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