Aiming to rid supermarkets of free plastic bags, the CEOs of several Israeli grocery chains pledged on Wednesday to purchase Environmental Protection Ministry-sponsored reusable bags upon the passage of a new bill.
The executives, who signed a “Pact for the Utilization of Multiuse Baskets,” gathered at the Environmental Protection Ministry offices in Tel Aviv from a variety of supermarkets – Shufersal, Mega, Rami Levi Hashikma Marketing, Hatzi Hinam, Victory, Yenot Bitan, Super Sapir, Keshet Teamim, Machsanei Hashuk, King Store and Merav Mazon Kol.
Contingent upon the passage of a bill banning the distribution of free plastic bags, the supermarket owners have agreed to distribute the reusable bags to members of the public for free.
“The use of plastic bags has turned into an addiction, which has become a dangerous and polluting dependence,” said Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz. “Reducing the use of plastic bags is a part of the very important environmental and cultural revolution that will greatly affect daily life.”
Israeli households are set to receive two coupons, one for four such bags and a second for three bags a few months after the first coupon, ministry officials said. The ministry is in the process of closing a deal with the Israel Electric Corporation to include these coupons with domestic electricity bills, to ensure that all residents receive their bags. For those people who still do not receive their coupons, the ministry stressed that it will be setting aside a supply of extra bags.
Despite approval by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in mid-July, the bill to ban free disposable bags still needs to pass through the Knesset, which the ministry said will likely occur shortly after the opening of the new session at the end of October.
The bill, submitted by Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, stipulates that all grocery stores must charge at least 40 agorot per plastic bag at their checkout counters.
Small free plastic bags for raw fruits and vegetables would still be permissible in both supermarkets and urban “shuk” settings.
Assuming the bill passes into law, funds generated by plastic bag purchases would go toward compensating plastic bag manufacturers for their losses.
Fines against merchants who violate the law could amount to thousands of shekels, the ministry said.
Accompanying the ban on free plastic bags and the provision of multiuse bags would be a widespread public relations campaign financed by the ministry.
Although supermarkets will be investing between NIS 80 million and NIS 100m. in purchasing the reusable bags, this will be a one-time fee rather than the NIS 80m. they are currently paying annually to supply free disposable bags, ministry officials said.
The supermarkets are set to distribute two types of bags: the first, a 15-kg. “stylish” bag made of Dacron – the material used for military uniforms – that can be folded into a multipack, and the second, a 20-kg. “tough” bag made of polyethylene material similar to that of the bags sold in Ikea. The bags will be equipped with shoulder straps and will bear messages on their sides discouraging the use of disposable alternatives.
According to a ministry poll, more than 70 percent of Israelis support an end to free plastic bag distribution. Currently, the average Israeli uses about 275 plastic bags each per year, totaling approximately 2.2 billion bags annually for the country, the ministry said.
A quarter of all plastic bags are thrown away immediately after use and remain in landfills for hundreds of years before disintegrating, the ministry added.
“Plastic bags have become a symbol across the world of an environmental hazard that needs to be curbed, and we in Israel, together with the citizens, are doing so,” Peretz said.
The minister stressed, however, that he remains sensitive to the workers in the plastic-bags industry, and he pledged to ensure that they would receive proper compensation for their losses.
The ministry still faces heavy opposition from the Forum of Plastic Bag Manufacturers, which has repeatedly demanded that the bill be repealed.
Nonetheless, Peretz said that he felt confident that the bill would be able to pass through the Knesset swiftly.
Yoram Horowitz, the ministry’s deputy director-general, emphasized the young generation’s willingness to acknowledge and confront environmental challenges.
“I am sure that the public will connect to the issue of the plastic bags,” Horowitz said.
“They will not see this as a burden – they will see this as an advantage, as an ideological matter, and will follow through with it.”