All Bottled Up

Israel Celebrates Earth Day With Eco-Friendly Art

By Nathan Jeffay

Published April 13, 2011, issue of April 22, 2011.
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It’s a constant worry to most environmentalists. A plastic bottle discarded today is likely to be intact in a landfill hundreds of years from now. But for Haifa-based industrial designer Hadas Itzcovitch, the durability of those bottles has a silver lining.

Itzcovitch, 30, is pioneering the bottles’ use in long-lasting and weatherproof outdoor art, and has just become the talk of the central Israeli city of Petah Tikvah because of her newest creation: a globe made entirely of bottles.

The 13-foot-tall globe was commissioned by the municipality ahead of Earth Hour — a global event, held on March 24, which involves turning off all nonessential lights to raise environmental awareness — and Earth Day, which will be observed April 22. It stands in pride of place outside the city hall, and will remain there for another month at least.

The globe comprises 5,370 bottles covering a metal frame. Fitting them onto the frame was simple — “like Legos,” according to Itzcovitch. But the design, which follows contours of the land and sea, was mind-bogglingly complicated, because blue mineral water bottles represent the ocean while green Sprite bottles map the land with remarkable accuracy.

With the help of her artist father, Ernest Itzcovitch, and 40 student volunteers from a course in green design that she teaches at Techni, a technical high school run by the Israeli Air Force, the globe was completed in just one month.

“I want people to take advantage of what people think is useless and show them that you can do something useful or aesthetic with it, and also [make] them think more about ‘garbage’ to encourage people to recycle more,” Hadas Itzcovitch told the Forward.

Earth Day, which originated in the United States, became internationally observed on its 20th anniversary, in 1990. Today it is celebrated in 175 countries. In Israel, environmental groups across the country will run events encouraging the public to reduce carbon emissions, recycle more, pick up litter and tidy public spaces. The group Friends of the Earth Middle East plans on bringing together Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian youth in Jordan to brainstorm ways of campaigning for careful use of water.

Two not-for-profit groups got off to early starts. The Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership already honored Earth Day by compiling the first-ever ranking of Israeli cities according to their green credentials, and as per long-standing tradition, the Life and Environment umbrella group for green nongovernmental organizations has awarded its annual “environmental Oscars,” known as Green Globes. This year’s prizes, given out at the end of March, were granted to acknowledge environmental efforts in government, the business sector and civil society. An award for “environmental excellence” went to Environmental Protection Minister and Likud lawmaker Gilad Erdan, who recently turned down the post of Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in order to continue his environmental work.

Just as in his eight-year political career Erdan has transitioned from mainstream politics to environmental politics, Itzcovitch has transitioned from conventional designs to green designs. She trained in industrial design at Holon Institute of Technology, learning to use more conventional materials.

She first gained national and international exposure at Christmas, after the Haifa municipality approached her to make an eco-friendly Christmas tree. She encouraged local residents to collect plastic bottles, 5,480 of which she used to create the 38-foot-tall “tree” that was illuminated from the inside by energy-efficient LEDs.

Her bottle art is now in high demand. As soon as she finished her Earth Day globe, she began a commission for Israel Independence Day, which this year falls on May 10. She is making an Israeli flag from 1,500 plastic bottles for Haifa Port.

She sees the move to plastic bottles as an obvious transition for her. “All my life, my family and I liked to reuse products, not to throw anything away, and my father had his artistic influence, so for me it’s quite natural to make things out of used items,” she said.

Today, she said, “people buy things cheap and throw them away. But it’s a wonderful feeling to make something from what people treat like nothing.”

Itzcovitch has big hopes for the future. “It’s a fantasy of mine — I would like to create a giant park from bottles,” she said.

Her idea, which is still in the planning stages and not yet pitched to potential clients, is to replace all the normal features of a park — large consumers of water — with plastic trees, plastic flowers and a ground made from bottles in place of grass. Her ideal location would be New York, she said.

Itzcovitch is quick to note that her style of design is not only environmentally friendly, but also community friendly. Her approach is to plan and oversee her projects, and also to encourage as many people as possible to get involved. In Haifa, ahead of Christmas, the appeal for bottles for her tree “brought together Christians, Muslims and Jews,” she said. When she pitches her idea of a park, she will suggest that local schools each build a “tree” or bed of “flowers.”

“Just as everyone shares the natural environment and should come together to protect it, I want my project to bring people together to develop their surroundings,” she said.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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