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Energy Forum 46: Extraction of energy from waste

Prof. Gershon Grossman , Prof. Ofira Ayalon , Naama Shapira
Cite As:
Grossman Gershon , Ayalon Ofira , Shapira Naama . Energy Forum 46: Extraction of energy from waste Haifa Israel: Samuel Neaman Institute, 2019.

Burning waste is increasingly used around the world as an alternative to landfill, but for several decades now, burning is no longer the first choice for waste treatment, because of its environmental implications. In Europe, many waste treatment systems combine prevention, reuse, waste separation at source, recycling and waste burning as a package of acceptable solutions, in an effort to reduce the waste volumes sent for landfilling.

Turning waste into energy will not solve Israel's energy problems. With the current technologies, these are only a few percents of Israel's total energy consumption per year. However, the extraction of energy from biomass waste, and waste, in general, enables to view waste treatment from an economic aspect, making waste treatment economically and more environmentally efficient than recycling, relative to the methods that do not extract energy. This will also lead to a reduction in landfill and disposal of waste and will reduce the volume of untreated waste that still exists in Israel.

Extracting energy from waste has many advantages, both in terms of the economic value of energy and in terms of eliminating an environmental nuisance. The Public Utilities Authority - Electricity (the Electricity Authority) recognized electricity generation from waste as a renewable energy source, and set tariffs for encouraging the use of it. There is also the possibility of using waste as a fuel for transportation and as an alternative fuel combined with coal for the production of electricity and the like. Nevertheless, Israel is lagging far behind European countries on this issue, mainly because of the regulation that does not encourage and even hinders its implementation.

Sources of waste: The sources of waste that can be used in mass burn processes are urban, commercial, and industrial waste, which are treated as is, except for initial separation processes for the removal of large or special products (e.g., refrigerators and hazardous materials). Waste sources that can be used in advanced processes such as gasification or pyrolysis are like materials intended for the mass burn. Waste sources that can be used as RDF or as co-burn material with coal are materials of high caloric value, and therefore organic and wet materials that lower the caloric value should be removed from the waste. The preferred materials for these processes are plastic, paper, cardboard, textiles, etc.

The sources of organic waste are municipal, agricultural, and forestry waste. Organic waste can be processed in inefficient processes as a raw material for mass burn, or serve as a material for anaerobic fermentation processes. There are many sources of organic waste and various organizations to deal with it. For example, the Ministry of Environmental Protection is responsible for the waste of the local authorities, which local authorities collect and transport, while the JNF also produces a considerable amount of waste in the forests it manages.

It is important to examine and review the activities of the JNF and the Ministry of Agriculture in the treatment of organic waste and to locate common endpoints that are suitable for more than one organization. For example, cutting off pruned branches is problematic, because it can be assumed that the pruned branches of the JNF will be cleaner than the pruned branches of the local authorities, which will be usually mixed with lumpy waste. It is desirable to examine the possibility that there will be one organization in the country to coordinate the treatment of all organic waste. Such a coordinating organization can optimize all organic waste treatment, promote the establishment of delayed end facilities, recommend treatment methods such as energy extraction, compost production, etc.

Preliminary conditions for the extraction of energy from waste: The composition of waste from various sources is not homogenous, and sometimes separation should be executed at the source due to the presence of substances whose burning may produce emissions that damage the environment. Waste separation at the source should be encouraged only when available end solutions exist at reasonable transport distances and depending on the economic benefits (including external costs). Considerations should include the demand for the products obtained in the treatment processes. It should be noted that separation at source, even when endpoint solutions are available, is not the most efficient method for the residents who are required to separate and sort waste, as well as in terms of the appearance of the urban landscape (due to a large number of storage vessels). It is also not efficient from an operational point of view (separate collection of different waste types and large transport distances) and not economical. Separation at the endpoint is more efficient and sites like Hiriya and the GreenNet facility in Atarot clearly demonstrate the advantage of separation at an endpoint.

Separation at source is only partially successful in Israel, mainly due to the lack of proper end facilities, leading to distrust between the system and the public. The citizens hear that the waste they throw into the different bins is finally mixed and buried, and they cease to separate.

The participants in the discussion all agree that the extraction of energy from waste must be part of a package of waste treatment methods in Israel. According to the new strategy of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, there is indeed an intention to promote solutions for waste sorting and the extraction of energy from waste. However, in the absence of the economic/environmental basis for the strategy, there is no certainty that such a move will be promoted appropriately from the environmental, economic, and social aspects.

During the discussions, the participants noted that the absence of representatives from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Agriculture, who were invited but did not attend, was felt. After the report was written, they were offered the opportunity to add their views, but they chose not to do so, and therefore, the opinion of these two government ministries was not reflected in the report.


  1. To encourage alternatives to extract energy from waste several preliminary actions are required:
  • Prohibition on dumping untreated waste - prohibition on dumping of unsorted and untreated waste should be considered in a binding manner as in Europe. Of course, such a requirement is possible only after an appropriate infrastructure has been established that enables sorting, separation, and treatment of waste in a manner that is economically, operationally, and environmentally efficient. Therefore, a target year must be set for the implementation of such a decision and to ensure that the enforcement of this regulation shall be comprehensive and complete.
  • Raising the level of the landfill levy - the landfill levy currently levied on the local authorities is not considered as an incentive to promote technologies, as is proven by the fact that since the levy has been in force, the rates of buried waste have not changed significantly, and are more than 80%. Naturally, when the levy funds remain in the Maintenance of Cleanliness Fund and are not returned to the local authorities to be used to promote endpoint solutions - this leads to resentment on the part of the local authorities. Therefore, the appropriate use of the Fund should be considered. Thus, before raising the levy, it is necessary to establish an appropriate infrastructure that enables sorting, separation, and treatment of waste in a manner that is economically, operationally, and environmentally efficient.
  • Waste separation at the source - Waste separation should be encouraged, and where possible even enforced, but only subject to availability of endpoint solutions within reasonable transportation distances and as a function of the economic benefits (including external costs), which include the demand for products obtained from the treatment processes. Separation at the source, even in the presence of available endpoint solutions, is not necessarily the most efficient method for the residents who are required to separate and sort the waste. It is also not efficient in terms of the appearance of the urban landscape (due to a large number of storage vessels), and operationally (separate collection of different waste types and large transport distances), and finally – it has no economic advantage. Separation at the endpoint is more efficient, and solutions such as those implemented at Hiriya and the GreenNet facility in Atarot show the advantage of separation at an endpoint.
  • Adoption of Western-International Standards for the Dispersal of Agricultural Wastewater in general and Cowshed Wastewater in particular in Field Crops (Gadash) areas - There is currently no clear policy of the government ministries regarding the dispersal of animal wastewater in general and cowshed wastewater in particular in Gadash areas, and there is insufficient enforcement of the existing regulations. The strict regulation of the Western world must be adopted and at the same time, enforced in a meaningful manner. These actions will enable new technologies that meet the environmental requirements to break forward.
  1. Treatment of organic waste - There are several alternatives for energy production from organic waste, and there are many sources of waste. The state of treatment of such waste should be examined in depth, and based on the findings, the possibility of assigning one organization to coordinate the entire management of the issue and promote decisions based on an in-depth examination and analysis that combines considerations of cost and benefit, including environmental considerations, should be examined.
  2. Waste-to-Energy plants – waste-to-energy plants must be established; the method is efficient and economical. However, there are barriers (mainly barriers regarding the allocation of land for building the plants) that need to be removed. Government support is required from the Maintenance of Cleanliness Fund and efficient use of the Fund's money for this purpose. Clearly, the environmental requirements of the existing plants and new plants should be in accordance with the European BREF standard (recently upgraded).
  3. Allocation of land for construction of waste treatment plants - The issue of allocating land for the construction of waste treatment plants, which is currently in the hands of the Israel Land Authority (ILA) should be resolved. The ILA is causing difficulties and delays the construction of the endpoint plants and constitutes a serious barrier to establish the plants.
  4. Regional coordination - It is recommended and desirable to divide the country into regions, similar to the Catalan model, where the government decides where the plants will be established, finances them, and allows the local authority to manage them.
  5. R&D - R&D should be encouraged and supported in the field of waste. The State of Israel did not fund academic research nor did it fund technological research in the field of waste for many years, except for studies financed by the Petroleum Substitutes and Smart Transportation Administration, which were concerned with the promotion of alternative fuels for oil.
  6. Dialogue and cooperation - A dialogue should be held, preferably within the framework of a waste forum, for coordination and dialogue with all stakeholders, in particular the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the local government. Information should be published and the public should be incorporated in the planning processes alongside transparency and increasing the trust between the government and the public in order to minimize the NIMBY phenomenon.

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