10 Ways Israel is Saving Planet Earth
This Earth Day, a look into how Israeli advances are helping battle climate change and pollution around the world.
In celebration of Earth Day here are ten ways that Israel is leading the way to protect and safeguard the planet’s precious resources.
Trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses and release oxygen into the atmosphere. It’s estimated that each acre of forest provides enough oxygen for 18 people every day. An acre of forest also absorbs an amount of carbon dioxide over the course of a year equal to a typical car being driven 26,000 miles. It’s clear that trees are essential to the Earth’s wellbeing, yet in most of the world, deforestation is a severe problem: over 15 billion trees are cut down globally each year.
Israel is the one exception. In fact, Israel is virtually the only country in the world that saw a net increase in trees during the 20th century. Since its establishment in 1948, approximately 240 million trees have been planted in Israel. Israel’s Forest Service, Keren Kayemet Le’Israel (KKL) manages about 8% of land in the Jewish state, planting trees and creating parks and forests throughout Israel.
World Pioneer in Water Recycling
The World Resources Institute estimates that 37 countries currently display an “Extremely High Stress” of water, meaning that over 80% of the water available is used annually, “leaving businesses, farms and communities vulnerable to scarcity”. The United States experiences medium to high stress, withdrawing about half of all available water annually. With a growing population, this level of water use is unsustainable. Israel is a world leader in water recycling and is sharing its recycling know-how with the world.
“In the field of water, Israel has the most advanced and efficient system in the world,” noted The Hindu newspaper, marking a major 2017 agreement between India and Israel to export Israeli recycling practices to India and beyond. In Israel, 95% of sewage water is recycled for use in agriculture. Spain has the next highest level of water recycling, but at 17% it lags far behind the Jewish state.
Each year Israel exports over $2 billion in water technology and scientific innovation to other countries, and the number is growing rapidly. In addition, Israel uses its own high levels of water recycling to support nearby regions, exporting water to the Palestinian territories and the Kingdom of Jordan, as well as billions of dollars each year of high water-intensive crops such as peppers, tomatoes and melons, grown in Israel’s arid semi-desert climate using recycled water.
An Alternative to Plastic
In 2010 two Israeli moms, Daphna Nissenbaum and Tal Neuman, decided to create an alternative to plastic. The result was Tipa, an Israeli company that produces flexible, compostable packaging. “Plastic packaging should behave like natural packaging, such as an orange peel,” explains Merav Koren, VP of Marketing for Tipa; “When discarded, 100% of the orange peel returns to nature.” Tipa packaging works like this, providing an environmentally friendly, compostable alternative to packaging that’s catching on around the world.
European manufacturers have embraced the Israeli plastic alternative. The Dutch retailer EkoPlaza uses Tipa material for up to 40% of its non-plastic packaged products. High end fashion designers such as Stella McCartney and Pangaia have also used Tipa packaging, helping to wean consumers away from plastic waste.
In the 1950s, an Israeli agronomist named Simcha Blass made a major discovery: he placed irrigation hoses alongside rows of crops in Israel’s desert Kibbutz Hatzerim and cut small holes in the hose next to each individual plant. When he ran water through the hoses, he was able to grow crops with much less water than using conventional irrigation methods.
Drip irrigation, as Blass’ invention came to be known, was developed by Israeli companies Netafim, Plastro and NaanDan, and has been constantly improved and adapted to new forms of crops. Drip irrigation has revolutionized global agriculture, allowing farmers to increase yields while using dramatically less water. Today, cutting edge drip irrigation techniques are shared with scores of countries around the world through MASHAV, Israel’s Center for International Cooperation.
Drinking Water from the Sea
As drought threatens much of the world, from Australia to California to the Middle East, Israel is showing the way to find new sources of clean water - including finding water for drinking and irrigation from the sea. The Eastern Mediterranean is facing its worst drought in 900 years, but Israel currently has a surplus of water thanks to conservation, recycling and desalination. The Sorek desalination plant near Tel Aviv is the world’s largest reverse osmosis plant, and is showing a way forward in water technology.
Traditionally, getting water from the sea has been considered a last resort: salty sea water is pushed through microscopic strainers to pull out the salt, but these tiny openings can quickly become clogged with microorganisms, necessitating costly and chemical-intensive cleaning. In recent years, Israeli scientists have found a way to use filters and other mechanisms to unclog the pores, making the process of removing salt and other impurities from seawater much easier and less expensive. Israel now receives 55% of its water from the sea, and is exporting their technology and experience to other countries.
In 2016, facing unprecedented drought and wildfires in California, the Obama administration turned to one foreign nation for help, Israel, establishing a cleantech incubator in Los Angeles bringing ten Israeli companies to the Golden State to help work on solutions to water and other environmental crises. IDE Industries, the Israeli company behind three of Israel’s desalination plants, provided technology for the United States’ largest desalination plant, in Carlsbad, California. The plant provides 190 million liters of water daily for residents of Southern California.
Solar Power Know-How
Ambitious plans for solar energy have altered Israel’s energy landscape in recent years: the country received over 13% of its power from solar panels in 2018 (versus 1.6% in the United States). Even more impactful than Israel’s growing reliance on renewable sources of energy is the huge role the Jewish state is playing in making solar energy available and practical around the world. Scientists at the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa have steadily improved the energy efficiency of photovoltaic cells in solar panels, making them up to 70% more efficient - and helping solar energy to become a more efficient source of clean energy globally.
Reducing Food Waste
Many of the world’s farmers store crops in burlap sacks; these are easily infested with insects and in many cases up to half of crops are routinely eaten by bugs and rodents. Annually, about 1.3 billion tons of food is lost each year due to problems in food storage. With 805 million people undernourished around the world, that’s enough to food everyone and eliminate hunger. A widespread Israeli technology called the Grain Cocoon is on the front lines of fighting crop lost and is helping global farmers store goods and reduce food waste.
The Grain Cocoon is a high durability, reusable, PVC bag that can hold between five and 300 tons of grain, hermetically sealing it so it cannot be damaged by insects, animals or weather. Developed by Israeli scientist Shlomo Navarro, the Grain Cocoon can be used with grains, rice, legumes and spice, and saves over 99% of crops. The storage bags kill bugs so using them helps farmers limit their use of harmful pesticides. By safely storing foods, the bags also allow farmers to hold onto crops until prices rise, helping eradicate rural poverty.
Grain Cocoons are widely used. Farmers in over one hundred mostly poorer countries use the Israeli invention - including farmers in Arab nations that refuse to recognize the Jewish state. Aid agencies are often the biggest customers of Grain Cocoons, and are spreading the word that a safe, affordable way to eliminate food waste can radically transform the way much of the world farms.
Safe Water Anywhere
Less than one percent of water worldwide is safe for drinking. Each year two billion people are unable to access clean water, and about 1.6 million children under five die each year from drinking contaminated water. Recognizing these grim statistics, Israeli infrastructure developer Yossi Sandak began researching ways to create highly portable, effective water purifiers in 2005. With Israeli scientist Ran Shani, they developed and tested a small 10 gram mouthpiece that can attack to the top of a drinking bottle that purifies water and makes it safe to drink. Sandak and Shani named their invention the WaterSheer, and in the past ten years it’s revolutionized drinking water safety worldwide.
When Taiwan was rocked by a major earthquake in 2009, Israeli rescuers brought WaterSheer with them, materially aiding survivors. “You need high quality water in every circumstance,” explains Yssie Sandak, “and we are able to provide it even in cases of disaster. In Taiwan, within 48 hours our products were already in the field and purifying 16,000 liters (4,227) gallons per day.” WaterSheer has also been used following humanitarian disasters in Myanmar and Haiti, and were part of contingency plans in case of emergency during the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Other Israeli technologies are also helping ensure potable water. The Israeli company Sulis produces Sulis Personal Purification Devices: water purification tablets that can purify nearly any groundwater source, making it safe to drink. The Israeli-developed Sokol Alert is a reusable purification system that can treat 3,100 gallons of water at a time and store it in “water pillows” that can be loaded onto flatbed trucks and delivered to sites where drinking water is scarce. Sokol’s water containers are affixed with taps allowing local people to fill containers directly with treated water.
Committing to Reducing Carbon Footprints
Israel is a signatory of the Paris Climate Accords, and in 2016 it embarked on an ambitious plan to drastically reduce the country’s carbon footprint, aiming for a reduction of 26% over 2005 levels by 2030. That’s the equivalent of curbing 7.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released. Pledging 800 million shekels (about $225 million) to the effort, then Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon explained. “We intend to continue to invest in resources as needed to further reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.” Economists estimated that committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a significant driver of climate change, would boost Israel’s economy by $8 billion overall.
On a global level, Israel’s carbon output is almost nothing. Still, the Jewish state is aiming to do better. In 2018, Israel announced a major new initiative to boost government spending on public infrastructure, including trains and other forms of low-pollution public transportation. Jerusalem’s Light Rail system is being expanded, and Tel Aviv is slated to get its first underground metro system. A high-speed rail connection recently opened up between Jerusalem and Ben Gurion International Airport, and plans are in the works to connect other cities by high speed rail.
Raising Fish in the Desert
Overfishing is a major threat to the global food supply Fully one third of all the species of fish in the world are currently threatened by overfishing. Many countries turn to fish farms to raise fish sustainably, but this comes with its own problems: fish farms generally produce enormous amounts of nitrogen waste, which in turn requires high-intensity and polluting efforts to clean. Since fish farms are often located near shores, in shallow water, the nitrogen pollution poisons waterways, spreading contaminants and killing fish. In many regions, for this reason, fish farming is banned.
New Israeli technology is changing this. GFA Advanced Systems for Freshwater and Saltwater Fish has pioneered ways to purify water in fish farms, eliminating nitrogen build-up and runoff. GFA (which stands for “Grow Fish Anywhere”) creates fish tanks that use microbes to treat nitrogen and organic waste in a “zero-discharge system”. Fish grow in purpose-built, self-contained ponds that can be located anywhere; water only has to be added to make up for evaporation. “It’s the most efficient fish growing system possible” explains CEO Dotan Bar-Noy; “There is no pollution, and there is no need to fish at sea. Just set up tanks with GFA technology anywhere in the world, and harvest fish when you’re ready to go to market.”
Israel’s fish farming technology has transformed regions in Africa. In 2012, the governments of Israel and Kenya entered into a partnership to bring Israeli fish farming technology to the Lake Victoria region, where overfishing and pollution have devastated fish stocks. In 2017, Israel began exporting fish farming technology to Liberia, helping farmers there become independent producers of zero-pollution fish.
“As populations grow,”Bar-Noy explains, “more countries are looking to fish as sources of protein, but overfishing threatens to destroy that dream… (With Israeli technology) fish can be grown anywhere - even in the desert - with minimal environmental impact. This is more than just growing fish. This could help feed millions.”
David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, said “The energy contained in nature, in the earth and its waters, in the atom and the sunshine will not avail us if we fail to activate the most precious vital energy: the moral-spiritual energy inherent in humankind, in the inner recesses of our being, in our mysterious, uncompromising, unfathomable and divinely inspired soul.” Today, as Israel grows in Ben Gurion’s vision, Israeli scientists are helping the environment, and the planet, become cleaner and more environmentally conscious for us all.