After long haul, Knesset okays 10 agorot charge for plastic bags

Lawmakers unanimously pass law after two-year slog, but environmental activists warn tiny charge, down from original 40 agorot, won’t be enough to dissuade use

A supermakert worker bagging groceries in plastic bags at the Rami Levi supermarket in Talpiot, Jerusalem, September 3, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A supermakert worker bagging groceries in plastic bags at the Rami Levi supermarket in Talpiot, Jerusalem, September 3, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

More than two years after giving an initial go-ahead, the Knesset passed a bill late Monday night imposing a charge on plastic bags at supermarkets and convenience stores, a move aimed at significantly reducing municipal waste and pollution.

The law, which will come into effect on January 1, 2017, will require customers to pay 10 agorot (approximately $0.03) per plastic bag and will ban the distribution of certain types of polymer bags.

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbai called the move “an important step for the conservation of nature, without affecting the cost of living.”

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, the average Israeli uses 275 plastic bags per year, which adds up to about two to three billion plastic bags across the country each year. This accounts for approximately 7% of the Israel’s waste.

Though the bill passed with a unanimous support of 44-0, some MKs argued it does not go far enough and, in its current form, will not reduce the numbers of plastic bags used.

Presenting a number of amendments to the proposal, MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union), an environmental activist and former chair of Israel’s Green Movement, said the charge was not high enough to make a difference.

“Studies by the Environmental Protection Ministry have shown a levy of less than 60 cents a bag will not be effective. Many people do not even pick up a ten agorot coin on the street so we can only hope this charge will make a difference,” Paran said.

Paran’s spokesperson said supermarket chains and plastic bag companies pressured Gabbai into lowering the cost from 40 agorot (about $0.12), as it was proposed in August 2014 by then-environmental protection minister Amir Peretz.

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

Tslul, an environmental group that focuses on clean waterways, called the law “important, but not sufficient,” saying it would enable the public to remain apathetic toward plastic bag use.

“The Tslul Organization has been fighting for years, together with the Make Israel Beautiful organization, to reduce the use of pollution-causing plastic bags,” the organization said in a statement. “We know that in order to change peoples’ habits, we need a brave and and uncompromising law that will force Israelis to take fewer bags at the supermarkets, but that is not the law that passed last night.”

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, supermarkets spend approximately NIS 88 million on plastic bags each year, a cost that is absorbed into their bottom line and not passed on to the consumer.

The law will require supermarkets to purchase the plastic bags at 10 agorot per bag, and pass that cost on to their customers. The law is only applicable to major supermarket chains. Local convenience stores and open-air markets will not be required to charge customers for bags.

The Environmental Ministry has explained this distinction by noting that supermarkets are the largest plastic bag consumers, often triple-bagging heavy items like milk.

In a previous iteration, the law had also required supermarket chains to pay approximately NIS 80-NIS 100 million to produce 20 million reusable bags and to give each family coupons for seven free reusable bags.

The current law does not include a provision for giving families coupons for reusable bags, due to disagreements over funding and distribution of the coupons, said Yam Bloom, Cohen-Paran’s spokesperson.

Other countries that tax plastic bags include Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, and France.

About 20 states and 100 cities in the US also have laws requiring charges for bags.

Some countries, such as Cambodia, Malawi, and Senegal, have banned plastic bags outright.

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