"The Compost Guy" on a Composter’s Delight and Dilemma in Tel Aviv

compost tel aviv composting bin image

Due to not having a yard and feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt every time I throw away my food scraps in a conventional garbage, I spent my first few months in Tel Aviv trying to figure out some plausible composting options in the city. This was harder than expected because so many Israelis have never even heard the word compost, which is the same in Hebrew as it is in English.

Still, the search for a compost in Tel Aviv was an incredibly insightful experience that has brought me closer to the environmental scene here.

Back in December I found myself on the Heschel Center roof (center for all things environmental) with a bucket of compost, deciding whether it was the right place for me and my scraps. It wasn’t. It didn’t feel quite right, and maybe that had to do with the plastic green compost bin instead of a pile or a heap. On the roof, though, I met fellow gardeners and environmentalists who I’ve later seen at other environmental gatherings where they dubbed me “the compost guy.”

When the Heschel center didn’t work out I continued the search and asked all around. Through discussions with community members and neighbors I’ve managed to spread the word and neighbors have asked me to eventually build a closed-bin compost on our roof. Until that day they collect scraps and offer them to me to bring to my current site.

For the past five months I’ve been bringing my organic waste to a random backyard on Ha’Avodah street that I actually learned about from fellow prophet Karen Chernick on her personal blog, Crunchy Greenola, a number of months back.g

I’d stick a plastic bag in a bin and collect the waste in my kitchen, and if there was room in the freezer I’d place the bag there, and if not I’d put the full bag on the porch. Then every Sunday on my way to a café or the Carmel Market I’d walk over the bags of compost, feeling a bit guilty that I was still wasting this plastic (and wishing that Tel Aviv adopted the compostable bags currently used in San Francisco’s supermarkets).

This system worked great for a while and I even spread the word and had friends descending from all over Tel Aviv to this one site. Even though the compost keepers invited people to bring their organic waste to their yard, it still felt strange creeping around a random yard, alone, dropping eggshells and carrot peelings and rotting basil into a heap. It also felt fantastic—like how I imagine those subversive renegade urban farmers feel. Part of the appeal was the high I achieved from the ten minute walk, just me and my week’s worth of waste, a sort of trek of righteousness, if you will.

One time I arrived at the Ha’Avodah street compost and there was another man there, one of the two tenders of the heap whose name I forgot as soon as I left. He was dreadlocked and wore ripped clothes, and as his appearance suggested, had just came back from the Far East. We chatted for a bit about the beauty of compost, about his pile, and I offered some of my own suggestions, such as keeping a pitchfork nearby so we can all help turn the pile and getting a hold of lots of sawdust to expedite the whole process. He even took my number down so that if he and his friend were to build some more stuff in the yard, I could help out; it would be a little composting community.

Mid-July and things aren’t as smooth as they used to be and now I find myself in a tricky place.

The weather has changed in Tel Aviv from mild and sunny to unbearable, humid, too sunny and awful. My freezer is jam-packed with my roommates’ frozen foods and thus my compost stays in the kitchen as its fills up is then moved to the porch where it waits. Then come the flies, and the maggots they leave behind. Once flies find themselves in your kitchen they don’t like to leave and will find a home in the sink drain and the garbage bin, among other hot spots. Now when I tie up the garbage bag and bring it downstairs I’m greeted by a wiggling white film.

Moreover, just as immediately the organic waste goes real bad, filled with a putrid brown liquid that the plastic bags cannot contain. The few recent trips I made to Ha’Avoda street were disasters. To keep the liquid from dripping during the walk I place the plastic bag in yet another bag, and then another, and sometimes in a fourth. I’d get to the site and just be untying bags, and pouring out the goods, getting the smell all over me and then tossing a pile of plastic in the garbage that appeared to share the same mass as my waste—not particularly efficient, I know. It was so awful and impractical that I stopped a few weeks ago. Now I find myself in desperate need of a more local (and ironically more sustainable) composting option where I can frequent on a daily basis and not have to use bags. My roof compost, a project still in the works but starting rather slowly, may be the best option bet but could be risky if not maintained properly once I move out.

I am excited, though, for yet another search for a solution to this dilemma. In the meantime I’ll still be getting that composting high, just with my neighbors’ frozen waste, and now I now I’ll get to meet even more eco-conscious Tel Avivans who share that common composting bond.

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8 thoughts on “"The Compost Guy" on a Composter’s Delight and Dilemma in Tel Aviv”

  1. Sandie Anne says:

    Hi I do worm composting in the US. Worm composting is certainly a solution to your problem. It is small and efficient. Though I have 3 Rubbermaid composting bins and they cannot deal with all our food scraps from a family of 3. Have you heard of Bokashi composting? That might be a solution for you. Look up Vokashi.com for a unique approach to composting

    Sandie Anne

  2. Leora says:

    I feel with you, we’re still looking for a place to compost in Haifa. If you’re looking for a solution to dripping bags, just use a bucket, which you’ll be able to take home after giving a little wash. You could get one with a good lid too. Update us on the vermicompost please, we might be interested.
    Good luck!

  3. Binyomin Adilman says:

    Does anybody know where to buy (or have made) a tumbling composter in Israel?

  4. Dalia says:

    You can use an old bath tub (and cover it with a board or whatever you find), or just about any container with a lid and drill some holes on the side and one on the bottom for drainage.
    The important things are:
    that it is dark and very humid inside, so a shaded spot and a good lid will do.
    For medium inside just use newspaper strips (soak them before you put them in)
    Put some container below the drainage, what comes out can be diluted and used as a fertilizer.
    Do not put acid foods
    Do give them a lot of egg shells, they are the only creatures who can truly break them down (it won’t happen in a regular compost pile).

    Have every apartment have vermicompost in their kitchen/living room/terrace (if you can get them to get over their worm phobia)



  5. Jeff says:

    Thanks, Dalia. What kind of bin did your friends use?

    James, I’m afraid the open-air compost of palettes and all is not appropriate for the rooftop, which is used for posh movie premiere parties and other events. It needs to be fully closed and contained and shouldn’t attract many animals, and must look nice. But, come by anyway and we can brainstorm how to do it using found materials and worms. It will be fun too. I already started a small vermicompost on the roof but it’s just an experiment and it won’t mee the full capacity of the building.

  6. Yael says:

    Nice to read about your experiences as a composter in Tel Aviv.What a pity that it isn’t like in my original country, Finland,where there are bio waste bins in every kitchen and the garbage rooms of the buildings have separate bins for newspapers, carton, milk cartons, glass, regular garbage, bio waste………

  7. Dalia says:

    Hi, I think the best option for urban compost if u don’t have a back yard is vermicompost (with worms) I have friends who are vermicomposting successfully in a tiny apartment in New York. You have a few limitations (the cannot eat acid food scraps , ie citrus, dairy) but they are a great choice for an apartment and make fabulous compost.

  8. james says:

    great post Jeff – good to hear of composters in each city! Can I send people your way when they ask about composting in TA? Now here’s an offer – how about I come over for a day, we grab all the pallets we find, and we build one, guerilla style? Or there is the post from a while back, about the couple who build fancy ones….

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