Israel’s largest supermarket chains signed an initiative on Wednesday morning with the Environmental Protection Ministry to subsidize reusable shopping bags starting this fall, when the Knesset is expected to approve a law slapping plastic bags with a price tag of 40 agorot (about 12 cents).

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) called the law and the agreement with the supermarket chains a “win-win” situation.

“Everyone is wrong about the number of bags we use in Israel per year; even people who work with environmental issues don’t know that we use two to three billion plastic bags per year,” he said.

“[Charging people to use plastic bags] will be a complete change in culture, a change that will affect various procedures and issues and the way people deal with a number of different problems,” he said. He noted, however, that the ministry and the supermarket chains were prepared for negative backlash immediately after the law goes into effect. “At the beginning, it will be like we’re taking away from people something that they had in their hand,” he said.

The law, which passed its first reading in the Knesset’s legislative committee, would require all stores to buy bags for 40 agorot per bag, and then pass that cost on to the consumer. The plan is to distribute coupons to every family and household across Israel allowing them to receive seven reusable shopping bags free of charge. The supermarket chains that signed the agreement on Wednesday will pay for the bags, which will be printed with their logo and the logo of the Environment Ministry.

A garbage landfill (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

A garbage landfill (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

According to ministry spokesman Ran Lior, supermarkets spend approximately NIS 88 million on plastic bags each year, a cost that is absorbed into their bottom line and not passed onto the consumer. It will cost supermarkets approximately NIS 80-100 million to produce 20 million reusable bags, enough to cover the first round of coupons for free bags. Supermarkets are the primary target of the law, rather than small convenience stores or shuks, because they are the largest consumers of plastic bags, sometimes triple-bagging heavy items like milk, Lior explained.

Rami Levy, the CEO of Rami Levi Shivuk Hashikma supermarkets, said that the initiative was beneficial to all parties because the one-time cost for reusable bags would save money from plastic bags in the long run. “I also believe that we’ll save and we will be able to lower the prices for the consumer, so the consumer will actually be able to buy things more cheaply,” he said.

Israeli supermarket mogul Rami Levy (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Israeli supermarket mogul Rami Levy (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

But Roberto Della Rocca, the corporate social responsibility manager at Shufersal, Israel’s largest supermarket chain, expressed worry that consumers will be angry with the companies. “It’s really important that the ministry helps us explain this law to consumers, because there is going to be a lot of opposition,” he said. He also encouraged the ministry to publicize which supermarket chains will be part of the initiative and to punish companies that do not support it.

The Knesset is expected to discuss the law about three weeks into its fall session, which begins in October after the holidays.