Knesset scraps disposable plastic tax, satisfying Haredi coalition demand

Environmentalists angered by reversal of price hike on single-use utensils and plates, but ultra-Orthodox community views former government’s tariff as attack on its way of life

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man buys disposable plastic dishes in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, January 20, 2023. (Oded Balilty/AP)
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man buys disposable plastic dishes in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, January 20, 2023. (Oded Balilty/AP)

The Knesset early Tuesday morning reversed a tax increase on disposable plastics imposed by the previous government, fulfilling a coalition demand by Haredi parties.

The legislature passed the order, previously approved by the cabinet, 45-31.

The previous government, led by Naftali Bennett, raised the cost of single-use cutlery and utensils by NIS 11 ($3.00) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) in November 2021 as a means of fighting a plague of plastic pollution.

The move lead to a nearly 40 percent dip in sales of the products between November 2021 and December last year, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The tax hike was praised by the ministry but raised the ire of the ultra-Orthodox community, where large families are common and where disposable plastic use is disproportionately high, leading to claims that the tax rise was aimed at harming them.

Reversing the hike was one of the stipulations of the government’s coalition deal with Haredi parties, to the chagrin of the environmental lobby. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) ordered officials to deal with the issue as soon as he entered the ministry.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a converence in Jerusalem, February 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman voted against cabinet approval of the removal of the tax last month, saying she had studied the issue and come to understand the “huge” environmental and health-related damage of disposable plastic use.

She argued that the tax hike should not be abolished until a suitable alternative had been found, but was overruled.

The cabinet agreed to seek a better solution to reduce the use of such plastic that would be acceptable to all.

Israel is the second biggest consumer per capita of single-use plastic in the world, and 90 percent of its beach trash is plastic. Plastics that end up in the seas and ocean are an increasingly common problem, killing maritime wildlife, contaminating fish and seafood entering the food chain, and leading to hundreds of millions of dollars of loss in tourism and maritime-related industries.

Sue Surkes and AP contributed to this report.

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