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Environment minister extends deposit law to bottles of up to 5 liters

Despite opposition of drinks companies, ultra-Orthodox, Gila Gamliel announces change to law as ‘win-win for environment, society, economy’; to save public NIS 60 million per year

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Putting used cans and bottles into an automated compression machine that delivers a voucher to return deposits paid in advance. (Screenshot Tomra Group)
Putting used cans and bottles into an automated compression machine that delivers a voucher to return deposits paid in advance. (Screenshot Tomra Group)

In a major victory for environmental activists, and particularly for the organization Adam Teva V’Din, which has lead a years-long campaign, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel announced Sunday that a deposit law on drink containers will be extended to bottles of between 1.5 and 5 liters (1.6 to 5.3 quarts) — a move calculated to save consumers some NIS 60 ($17.8) million a year.

Because of restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, the drinks companies and retailers involved will be given a year to prepare for the changes even though the law only provides for 60 days, a ministry statement said.

Israel, like most countries in the world, is swimming in single-use plastic bottles, which litter public spaces such as parks, nature reserves, beaches, rivers and the sea.

Since 2001, when the government passed the Deposit Law on Beverage Containers, a refundable sum — currently NIS 30 agorot ($0.09) — has been added to the cost of all cans of drinks, and glass and plastic bottles containing 100 milliliters (3.4 fluid ounces) to 1.5 liters (1.6 quarts) of beverage, to encourage people to return them after use.

Collecting plastic bottles in Jerusalem, November 14, 2006. (Pierre Terdjman / Flash90)

But larger bottles have been exempt, mainly due to pressure from ultra-Orthodox groups and manufacturers.

In 2010, manufacturers and importers were given responsibility and targets for collecting and recycling bottles of 1.5 to 5 liters. Nine drinks importers and producers are still appealing ministry-imposed fines totaling NIS 48 ($14.2) million for their failure to reach these targets.

In December 2019, in response to a petition filed by Adam Teva V’Din, the High Court gave Gamliel’s immediate predecessor, Ze’ev Elkin, until June 2020 to explain why the deposit law should not apply to bottles larger than 1.5 liters.

Gamliel secured a further extension until Sunday, saying that she needed time to come to a decision that she hoped that all sides could live with.

In a statement issued Sunday, Gamliel said, “The best way to clean the public space of empty bottles and to encourage recycling is to apply a deposit to the large bottles as well.”

Amit Bracha, Executive Director, Adam Teva V’Din. (Courtesy)

Adv. Amit Bracha, CEO of Adam Teva V’Din, praised Gamliel for what he said was a “historic move” toward protecting the environment in Israel.

“Applying the law will end a period in which tens of millions of polluting plastic bottles find their way into public spaces, beaches and nature reserves every year,” he said. “The Israeli public will earn tens of millions of shekels every year from the repayment of the deposit and Israel will align with European countries and become a cleaner and healthier state for the public and the environment.”

Gamliel described her decision as “a win-win-win for the environment, society and the economy.”

Estimating that the move will save Israelis some NIS 56.3 ($16.7) million a year, collection companies NIS 45.6 ($13.5) million and local authorities NIS 4.4 ($1.3) million, Gamliel said the deposit extension would ensure the economic viability of a plastic recycling plant in Israel and provide raw materials to local bottle producers that are currently having to import recycled plastic from overseas. [Israel’s last recycling plant for plastic bottles closed years ago]. It would also reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and create new green jobs, the minister said.

A woman throws a bottle into a recycling bin in Jerusalem. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The 24,000 bottle collecting cages on the streets will be replaced by automatic deposit and return machines in supermarkets and other central collection points, according to the ministry. Today, customers have to queue at supermarket checkouts to get their money back.

At a Knesset Economy Committee meeting last month on the subject, Gamliel showed a clip of machine that compresses bottles and cans, and issues refund vouchers. The so-called reverse vending machine — in this case developed by a Norwegian company, Tomra — looks like an industrial laundromat. The consumer can toss more than 100 empty cans or plastic bottles into it at once, without having to feed them in one by one. The machine calculates the number of items inserted and issues a voucher refunding the deposit paid when the drinks were bought.

Putting used cans and bottles into an automated compression machine that delivers a voucher to return deposits paid in advance. (Screenshot, Tomra Group)

The ministry said Sunday that it would even consider subsidizing automats in schools and other public buildings so that the deposit proceeds would go to the institutions themselves.

At the Knesset Economics Committee, a coalition made up of the beverage manufacturers, two out of three of the industry-established bottle and can collection companies, the Center for Local Government, and MKs representing both Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, argued against extending the deposit law to the bigger bottles. These groups charged that the key to more recycling was to make bottle collection bins as accessible to the public as possible and to encourage citizens to recycle voluntarily with the help of educational campaigns.

The manufacturers charged that the “unfair” cost to them of an expanded deposit law, which they estimated at NIS 300 million to 500 million ($87 million to $145.3 million), would be passed onto the consumer in the form of higher canned and bottled drink prices.

Plastic waste in the sea. (dottedhippo/iStock by Getty Images)

Environment Ministry figures suggest that importers and producers will see their annual costs rising by just under NIS 30 ($8.9) million and large retailers by NIS 14.7 ($4.4) million.

The forum of the 15 strongest local authorities and one of the three bottle and can collection companies (Asufta), were among those who argued in favor of broadening the deposit law.

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