Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s first decision in his hew office was issuing a directive to cancel the levy imposed by previous government on plastic plates and utensils, as well as sugary drinks

Gad Lior, Ilana Curiel| 01.01.23

Israel will scrap the country’s tax on single-use plastic plates and utensils despite environmental concerns, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said Sunday.

Smotrich, who was sworn in on Thursday, said his first decision in office is to axe the plastic tax as well as a levy on sugary drinks “as quickly as possible.” The decision, in apparent defiance of global efforts to reduce the amount of plastic waste that is polluting oceans, comes after opposition to the tax from religious parties that said it unfairly targeted their communities.

טקס חילופי שרים במשרד האוצר
Smotrich makes first controversial decision
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)

The move is expected to cost Israel about $340 million in lost annual revenue. The tax was first implemented in January of 2022 by the previous government, in the hopes to reduce both environmental pollution and the rate of consumption of single use plastic and artificially sweetened beverages.

Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians Hagai Levine told Ynet that many senior officials within the health care system oppose the directive. “Data shows that the tax has reduced the consumption of sugary beverages by 17%, a significant drop that has saved many lives,” he said. “Reversing this would be disappointing as it could literally cost people their limbs.”

The Israeli Union for Environmental Defense also voiced its concern: “This is an outrage, exacerbated by the fact the finance minister has done it on his first day on the job. As it is, Israel is running out of places to store all the waste and canceling the tax on disposable utensils will only serve to increase environmental pollution. We expect the new environmental protection minister to stand firm against this irresponsible move.”

משקאות קלים
Sugary drinks in Israeli supermarkets
(Photo: Amit Shaal)

Outgoing Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg called the move “petty politics at the expense of the environment and public health,” and called upon her successor to oppose the directive.

The country’s Environmental Protection Ministry, which has reported a 50% drop in the use of such plastic since the tax was introduced in 2021, said it was studying Smotrich’s decision and its consequences.

Smotrich’s coalition partners appear to back him. Chairman of the Finance Committee MK Moshe Gafni said the tax that was “primarily designed to hurt the Haredi sector. It was one of the first commitments we had made and I’m happy about it.”

Earlier, outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman hosted the authority-exchange ceremony with Smotrich. “Both you and I came in with a big notebook. I’ve always said there’s no such thing as a poor country with a strong welfare system. I’m always at your service,” Liberman said.

טקס חילופי שרים במשרד האוצר
The transfer of the baton, Liberman and Smotrich
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)

Smotrich said: “The first order of business is to alleviate myself of the political perspective. I answer to the Israeli people. I believe in free markets and there is plenty that Liberman and I agree on. As we strengthen the economy, state revenue will increase. These are challenging times, with a global recession and rising inflation. While I doubt our decisions will always be popular, I trust they will be proven correct over time.”

“We have a good economy. My predecessor did well and I wish to extend my gratitude to him. Reducing the cost of living is of primary concern.”