The only reason given for the decision was the agreements between Netanyahu and his coalition partners. Taxation and legislation are the most effective tools for reducing the use of disposable plastic, which is considered a major pollutant in Israel

Plastic disposable tableware is sold in a store in Israel, 2018.
Plastic disposable tableware is sold in a store in Israel, 2018. Credit: Victoria Shapiro / Shutterstock.Zafrir Rinat

Jan 29, 2023

Israel’s government on Sunday approved the repeal of the tax on disposable plastic utensils, which constitute a significant part of the waste pollution problem in the country.

The decision to repeal the tax was made despite the position of the Environmental Protection Ministry that the tax should be continued, and despite the government’s own data showing that the tax has reduced the use of disposable utensils by dozens of percentage points. The only reason given for the decision was that it is derived from the coalition agreements. Under the decision, the Finance and Environmental Protection ministries were asked to present alternatives within half a year to motivate a reduction in the use of disposable plastic.

The previous government decided, a year and a half ago, to impose a tax on plastic utensils at a rate of 11 shekels per kilogram. The reason was that such utensils constitute about one fifth of the volume of waste in public spaces. In practice, the price of plastic utensils increased by more than the rate commensurate with the tax. According to data presented today to the government, this resulted in a decrease of nearly 40 percent in the consumption of disposable plastic utensils. Had the tax not been repealed, the projected revenue for the state would have totaled some 330 million shekels a year.

The demand to repeal the tax was led by the United Torah Judaism list. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of Religious Zionism announced after the decision: “We promised, and we delivered.” Shas chairman MK Arye Dery said, “As we demanded in the coalition agreements, the government has now repealed the tax on disposable utensils, which has become a symbol of intentional harm to the Haredi public.”

The government was presented on Sunday with opinions by legal counsels at the Finance, Health, and Environmental Protection ministries, emphasizing the environmental benefit of the tax. Among other things, they noted that the per capita consumption of disposable plastic utensils is higher in Israel than in European countries, and that it has doubled over the past decade.

The legal counsels noted that the tax was imposed in accordance with the principle that “the polluter pays” – those choosing to use disposable utensils will pay for the environmental costs. They added that in light of the damage caused by the utensils, there was a legal “difficulty” in repealing the law without presenting an alternative way of reducing the damage – but added that there is no legal “restraint” to doing so.

The professional echelon of the Environmental Protection Ministry was opposed to repealing the tax, and was backed in its position by Minister Idit Silman, who said that “in recent weeks I have delved in depth into the matter and have been exposed to the enormous harm of disposable utensils.”

It is yet unknown what effective alternatives will be presented to the government following Sunday’s resolution, if they are not to include taxation or bans. Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, proposed banning the purchase of disposable utensils at public facilities or determining that the purchase of such utensils not be tax-deductible. However, he said, “alternatives should be implemented before repealing the tax.”

Plastic is a product of oil refining, and thus beyond the pollution of the final product it also contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases in the oil refining process that produces it. Plastic waste harms the environment, among other ways, due to chemical additives used to improve the plastic’s performance.

Three weeks ago, public health organizations and the Zalul Environmental Association (which works to protect beaches and waterways) held a conference at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital on the health risks of plastic. Experts testified that toxins from the plastic additives infiltrate the human body. Exposure to these causes reproductive disruptions, cancerous tumors and disruption to the body’s hormonal system. Most plastic additives have not been tested for their effect on the flora and fauna. In addition, most disposable plastic products carry no information regarding their contents, so consumers are denied the ability to know what they might be exposed to.

The Environmental Protection Ministry wrote, in the professional position paper it presented to the government on Sunday, that “disposable utensils waste is taking up a growing volume of space at depositories, increasing cleanup costs and polluting the sea, the open spaces and the public sphere. The consumption of these utensils constitutes a grave threat to ecosystems and to the health of the public, which is exposed to microplastic particles scattered through the sea, the air, and the soil.”