Israelis use an estimated 2.2 billion bags each year, costing retailers $23.1 million. Many bags end up in urban areas, nature reserves and at beaches.
By Avi Bar-Eli | Jun. 8, 2014

The Environmental Protection Ministry is pushing to curb the use of disposable plastic bags in Israel with legislation that would make consumers pay a 60-agorot (17-cent) fee for every bag they receive from retailers.

The draft law would actually require that the fee be charged to importers and local producers of the bags, and would go into an environmental cleanup fund. But, according to the plan, the fee would be passed onto the consumer. The law would provide an exemption for pharmacies and food sold in bulk, such as vegetables and sunflower seeds. The legislation provides for fines of 20,000 shekels for individuals and 40,000 shekels to corporations that violate the required 60-agorot charge per bag.

The environment fund would be used to support recycling facilities, deal with the processing of trash and support educational efforts to encourage recycling. Retailers in Israel spend about 80 million shekels ($23.1 million) a year on the disposable plastic bags they provide their customers.

Israelis use about 2.2 billion of the bags each year, the ministry said, including 1.4 billion provided by supermarkets. That works out to 274 bags per person on average, or 975 per household. About a quarter of the plastic bags are thrown away immediately after they are brought home from the store, and a considerable portion find their way to open urban areas, nature reserves, beaches and the sea itself.

According to the explanatory notes released with the draft legislation, disposable shopping bags do not decompose over a period of centuries, polluting the environment – particularly open areas and the world’s marine habitats. On a global level, about 100,000 marine animals a year die from ingesting plastic bags.

A number of countries have enacted similar levies on the use of plastic bags, the ministry said, although enforcement in some places is lax. Enforcement of the law would probably encounter difficulties in Israel as well, in part if untaxed plastic bags are brought in illegally from the West Bank.

The cost of implementing the plan is expected to include a one-time cost of 3 million shekels for a computer system, as well as about 500,000 shekels a year in ongoing operational costs. Some of the funding would come from the new environmental fund. According to a survey carried out by the ministry, more than 70% of the public is supportive of a halt to free plastic shopping bags.