Why Doesn't Tel Aviv's Carmel Market Compost (or Recycle)?

Late Friday afternoon at the Carmel Market in the center of Tel Aviv. Shabbat is approaching, and the “shook” is winding down for the weekend. Vendors are hawking the last of their merchandise, heavily discounted, to the few remaining stragglers. Straining to yell over cantorial Oriental music, the vendors ask each other what time Shabbat begins this weekend. “Seven-something,” one replies.

Everything that is not sold is either packed up and trucked out, or scavenged by Chinese and Filipino workers. Some fruits and vegetables are salvaged by a group of activists collecting donations for the African refugees living in south Tel Aviv’s improvised shelters, while other goods are given away for various Shabbat dinners. What remains becomes trash.

Several small mountains of trash begin to appear around the Carmel Market on Friday evenings, after the shopkeepers sweep their vegetable stands clean. Plastic bags, cardboard boxes, vegetable peels, grapefruits whose juice was squeezed out hours ago and the plastic cups that they were squeezed into – all are heaped together between the shops into piles of garbage.

The market’s sloping main street becomes a river of refuse, with the water flowing downhill toward the parking lot carrying with it the remains of all sorts of things. After all of the stands have been boarded up, and the vendors have all disappeared, only this river remains.

Soon enough, a tractor shows up and begins clearing out the rubble, even as a handful of Chinese are still poking through it. After he finishes his work, and hauls out all the trash, someone else comes and sprays everything down with a high-pressure hose.

Does all of this waste have to end up in Israel’s landfills, most of them already filled up to the brim? Vegetable peels, squeezed fruits, even cardboard are all compostable materials. If all of the organic waste (organic in the sense that it was once alive) was separated out from the rest, piled up somewhere and left alone for a couple of months, the result would be fertile, organic compost (organic this time meaning chemical-free).

The Carmel Market has its own merchants’ organization, which has plenty of contacts among the agriculturalists with whom they do business. Why not come to some sort of arrangement in which the farmers receive back their agricultural waste, either as raw compostable material or as the finished product?

After all, Israel has one of the highest rates of recovered wastewater usage in the world. If raw sewage can be treated and turned into a valuable resource which serves the needs of the country’s farmers, why should organic waste from its vegetable markets be thrown into a trash can – especially when it has the potential to become compost that, if marketed wisely, could even replace some of the agrochemicals currently used on Israel’s farms.

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4 thoughts on “Why Doesn't Tel Aviv's Carmel Market Compost (or Recycle)?”

  1. Tamar says:

    I was wondering the same thing last year. I am looking at fellowships and gathering research if this is a something I could ignite. Any new NEWS?

  2. james says:

    Great piece Jesse. I love photo essays … how can we use this piece to start pressuring the Carmel Market Traders Organisation (and that at Mahane Yehuda here in Jeru, and green grocers everywhere…) to start composting? A great opening salvo – I feel a campaign coming on!

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