The 2.2 billion plastic bags Israelis use every year take centuries to degrade; Economy Ministry opposes bill.
By Zafrir Rinat, Ora Coren and Avi Bar-Eli | Jul. 15, 2014

The coalition will support a bill banning stores from giving out free plastic bags, in an effort to minimize the environmental damage caused by the 2.2 billion such bags Israelis use every year, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation has decided.

Consumers will still be allowed to buy the bags that supporters of the bill say ultimately clog streams and collect on roadsides, though the idea is they will be less likely to use the bags if they have to pay for the privilege.

Opponents of the bill say it amounts to a tax on shoppers, harms local businesses that manufacture bags – worth 80 million shekels ($23 million) a year – and isn’t as environmentally beneficial as its advocates claim.

“The Environmental Protection Ministry cynically exploited the security situation and rammed a bill through the legislation committee that’s controversial due to the economic harm [it will cause] to consumers and manufacturers,” said the Forum of Plastic Bag Manufacturers, a trade association.

Ministers voted Sunday to back the ban and said stores should pay bag manufacturers and importers no more than 40 agorot (about 12 cents) per bag, about one-third of the previously proposed charge. The price for shoppers will probably come to about 60 agorot per bag.

The bill, which still requires Knesset approval, calls for the free distribution of reusable bags before the prohibition on free plastic bags takes effect.

A quarter of the 275 plastic bags the average Israeli uses every year are thrown in the garbage immediately after consumers bring home their purchases, but it takes hundreds of years for the plastic to degrade, at great cost to open spaces and the sea, says the Environmental Protection Ministry, which sponsored the law.

The ministry said Israeli consumers will not be seriously harmed by the new law. A survey it conducted showed that more than 70 percent of Israelis support banning the free bags.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett voted against the bill and is expected to appeal the ministerial committee’s decision to the full cabinet.

If Israelis continued to use the bags, the charge would essentially be an annual tax of 578 shekels per family, making it a victory for the businesspeople earning an additional 80 million shekels at the expense of regular shoppers, said the bag manufacturers association.

It also said many Israelis reuse the plastic bags as garbage bags, which they would end up having to buy for that purpose if the law were passed.

The bill calls for the money collected from the manufacturers and importers to be put into a fund to clean up the environment and assist local bag manufacturers hurt by the law, though no mechanism for the compensation has been agreed upon so far.

Ministers propose ban on free plastic bags
The government bill would mandate that every disposable plastic bag would cost consumers 40 agorot.

In a move that could significantly reduce the presence of plastic bags in Israel, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday approved Environment Protection Minister Amir Peretz’s proposal to ban their free distribution.

The government bill would mandate that every disposable plastic bag would cost consumers 40 agorot. Prior to enforcing a ban on free plastic bags, however, the ministry would supply multi-use baskets for distribution at retail chains for a limited time period.

All funds generated by the plastic bag purchases would go to financing the program, as well as compensating the producers of one-time use plastic bags, the ministry said.

“Shopping without bags is the cleanest shopping,” said Peretz. “Soon there will be no excuse for anyone. It’s time to become a part of progressive countries whose citizens have understood that the minimal comfort they received from free bags in the past will create severe harm to the environment and great damage to our children’s future.”

Plastic bags are distributed free of charge to customers, though their estimated total annual cost is about NIS 80 million and influences the prices of products in stores, the ministry explained.

According to a ministry poll, more than 70% of Israelis support an end to free plastic bag distribution. Currently, each Israeli uses about 275 plastic bags each per year, totaling approximately 2.2 billion bags annually for the entire country, the ministry said.

If the bill becomes law, fines against violators could amount to thousands of shekels, the ministry added.

In response to the committee’s approval of the bill, the Forum of Plastic Bag Manufacturers accused the Environmental Protection Ministry of taking advantage of the security situation to hit manufacturers and consumers negatively, adding that Economy Minister Naftali Bennett is expected to oppose the bill.

“Despite our request to allow representatives of the manufacturers to present their arguments about the bill, the Environmental Protection Ministry did not permit many of the manufacturers’ representatives, who are under missile attack, to attend a meeting last week on the subject,” a statement from the forum said. “We demand that the Environmental Protection Ministry curb the promotion of the bill.”