Activists push minister to apply deposit law to large bottles as deadline nears

Activists push minister to apply deposit law to large bottles as deadline nears

Environmentalists and 15 mayors say longstanding exemption for bottles over 1.5 liters hampers recycling efforts and costs millions of shekels each year

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

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

Mayors of 15 major cities on Sunday joined five large environmental organizations in calling on Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel to apply a law of returnable deposits on beverage bottles and cans to larger bottles.

Their letter came before Gamliel is due to address the Knesset Economy Committee on the subject on Monday. Wednesday is the deadline for the ministry to explain to the High Court why bigger bottles have not to date been covered by the law.

On Sunday, to the chagrin of environmental activists, she asked the High Court to postpone the Wednesday deadline.

Since 2001, when the government passed the Deposit Law on Beverage Containers, a refundable NIS 30 agorot ($0.09) is 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.

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

According to the Calcalist business daily, the Manufacturers’ Association; Ela, the recycling corporation set up by the large beverage companies; Shas lawmaker Yinon Azulai; and Haim Bibas, chairman of the Center for Local Government, are all pressing Gamliel not to expand the law.

Ultra-Orthodox parties say that large religious families — key consumers of bigger bottles — will suffer by having to cart so many of them back to the retailers to get their deposits back. The manufacturers and Ela would face much bigger bills because many of the costs currently imposed on consumers and local authorities would shift to them.

Research carried out for the ministry by policy consulting firm Pareto Group, which was presented just last month, showed that extending the deposit law would save consumers nearly NIS 90 million ($26 million) annually, while collectors of the bigger bottles would make a yearly NIS 16 million to 30 million ($4.6 million to $8.6 million) and local authorities would save NIS 5 million (close to $1.5 million).

View of plastic bottles and other trash in the Beit Zait water reservoir near Jerusalem on March 1, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

On the losing side, the beverage wholesalers would see their bills going up by more than NIS 77 million ($22.3 million) annually.

The original aimed to cut litter and landfills, encourage recycling, and make producers responsible for the waste their products create rather than passing the cost on to consumers, local authorities and future generations.

But the only solution for bigger plastic bottles is to throw them voluntarily into large recycling cages, which Ela places on sidewalks all over the country. Big glass bottles can be deposited voluntarily in general glass recycling containers.

Bottles and drinks cans containing less than 1.5 liters, which consumers have returned to a supermarket to retrieve their deposits, stand outside a city store. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

In December 2019, in response to a petition filed by Adam Teva V’Din, the High Court gave Gamliel’s predecessor, 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 Gamliel is now seeking to do the same.

The new Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel is seen with her predecessor Zeev Elkin at at the Ministry of Environmental Protection in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In their letter, the forum of 15 authorities note that the bottle cages not only block sidewalks, cause more dirt and even create liquids that leach into the groundwater — they do not provide a proper answer for this considerable waste stream, and they prevent Ela from reaching its recycling targets every year.

“The continued postponement of the law’s application to these  [larger] bottles will preserve this situation and lead to the plastic bottles continuing to pollute the streets, beaches and sites of nature,” they wrote to Gamliel. “The Ministry of Environmental Protection should apply the deposit to this [additional] waste stream or formulate an alternative solution for it,” ideally as “part of an overall review of the policy of treating municipal waste.”

Last Tuesday, the environmental organizations — Adam Teva V’Din, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, EcoOcean, Greenpeace and Zalul — jointly urged Gamliel to apply the deposit law to large bottles.

The government set targets, ordering Ela in 2010 to collect 50% of all bottles over a liter, but a survey carried out in 2016 revealed that they only collected 44% in that year.

Central Bureau of Statistics figures show that the deposit law has led to far more bottles being collected. Some 78% of deposit bottles — numbering more than a billion — were returned in 2017 and 2018, compared to  just 57% of the bigger, non-deposit bottles (more than 734 million of them) in 2017. (No 2018 percentages were supplied.)

Pareto Group’s research found that plastic bottles holding more than 1.5 liters account for a third of all plastic bottles, but two-thirds of the weight in waste.

According to Adam Teva V’Din, which wants automatic bottle compression facilities installed in supermarkets and gas stations to make returning bottles easier and cheaper, retailers give customers 30 agorot for each bottle returned, but charge the Ela recycling corporation 35 agorot to for each bottle passed on to them.

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