Justice Ministry changes tack, agrees to support single-use plastic ban

In potential ‘revolution from below,’ MK Miki Haimovich coaxes officials to stop blocking council efforts to ban single-use plastic in nature and approve bylaw changes

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Plastic waste on an unidentified beach. (YouTube screenshot/Zavit)
Plastic waste on an unidentified beach. (YouTube screenshot/Zavit)

Two local authorities, in the far north and far south of the country, look set to become the first to pass bylaws that will forbid people from taking single-use plastic into open spaces.

The councils of the Upper Galilee and Eilat on the Red Sea have to date been stymied in their attempts by Justice Ministry officials claiming that single-use plastic is widely used, part of a consensus, and should not be banned.

On Monday, though, MK Miki Haimovich (Blue and White), chair of the Knesset Interior and Environmental Protection Committee, told a conference that she had explained why it was so important to ban such utensils and convinced the officials to change their view.

Requests from the two councils “will be approved soon,” she told the annual conference of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, held on Zoom.

Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Haimovich called on other local authorities, many of which have also been trying to advance bans on single-use plastic on beaches and other open spaces, to “copy and paste [the new regulations] to have the same thing approved automatically” elsewhere.

“This could be an example of how revolutions begin from below,” she said.

Israel is the second biggest per-capita consumer of single-use plastic in the world, with many of its beaches and national parks bearing the littered remains of family barbecues and teenage outings. That said, a survey of 602 respondents last year by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 58 percent of Israelis back legislation to ban single-use plastic items.

Many speakers at Monday’s ISEES conference agreed that public awareness about the dangers of plastic waste to wildlife and the oceans had risen substantially over the last three years.

But as a clip filmed last month of staff from a kayaking business in northern Israel cleaning a river shows, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

עובדי קייקי מעין הגושרים, רע סופר וניב זינגר, ניצלו את הסגר לעבודה חיונית ואספו היום לכלוך מהנחל.להלן חלק מהתוצאות:#טובעים_בזבל

Posted by ‎נקי עמותה לתרבות הניקיון בישראל‎ on Sunday, September 20, 2020

Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has seen a huge increase in the use of plastic, thanks to items such as protective masks, gloves, face shields, overalls, dividing screens, and more.

Haimovich also told the ISEES session on waste that she had submitted a proposal to extend a law dealing with returnable deposits on beverage bottles and cans to large bottles.

Since 2001, when the government passed the Deposit Law on Beverage Containers, a refundable 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 recycling.

Bags of beverage containers being prepared for recycling in Jerusalem. (Pierre Terdjman / Flash90)

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

In December 2019, in response to a petition filed by Adam Teva V’Din, the High Court gave then-environmental protection minister Ze’ev Elkin until June 2020 to explain why the deposit law should not apply to bottles above 1.5 liters.

Elkin got the court to postpone the deadline for a response, and the current minister, Gila Gamliel, secured an additional extension until October 18.

A bottle recycling cage, not unlike the type employed by SodaStream for its ads. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A bottle recycling cage, not unlike the type employed by SodaStream for its ads. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

But Haimovich also revealed that private members’ bills — many submitted by her — are currently frozen.

Israel has had no budget since December 2019, with coalition partners Likud and Blue and White locked in disagreement over whether the government should pass a budget that includes 2021, as stipulated in the coalition agreement and backed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, or a budget that only covers the rest of 2020, as Likud has insisted.

Last month, in a rare moment of agreement, the government approved the addition of NIS 11 billion ($3.23 billion) to the provisional state budget. Of this, Haimovich clinched NIS 4 ($1.2) million for projects to clean up open spaces. The sum will be split between the Society for the Prevention of Nature in Israel and another not-for-profit called Naki (Clean).

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