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Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
Knesset bills seeks to alleviate scourge of plastic shopping bags in Israel
By SHARON UDASIN
10/02/2014
"I intend to bring a new reality in which plastic bags will disappear from the landscape and culture," environment minister says.
 
After MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) submitted a bill to the Knesset on Monday morning regarding a plastic bag prohibition in stores, the Environmental Protection Ministry announced that afternoon that the ministry has completed work on its own bag ban.

Rozin’s bill, drafted by the groups Zalul and the Council for a Beautiful Israel, aims to bring about a significant reduction in plastic bag use and replace them with either biodegradable bags or reusable baskets with a smaller environmental impact.

Joining Rozin and the NGOs in support of the bill on Monday were MKs from across the political spectrum, including Miri Regev (Likud), Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), Isaac Herzog (Labor), Eitan Cabel (Labor) and Amram Mitzna (Hatnua).

On the same day, the Environmental Protection Ministry also announced that its officials completed a draft version of a bill that would reduce the distribution of plastic bags in retail chains.

The ministry’s legislation calls for the distribution of complimentary, multi-use baskets prior to nixing free plastic bags.

Ministry officials first declared their intentions to promote such a plan in September.

Rozin’s bill proposes that during an initial transition year, retailers would still be able to provide clients non-biodegradable plastic bags at a minimum price. At the end of the year transition period, however, the stores would only be able to issue biodegradable plastic bags or reusable baskets, for a small fee.

The legislation would not, however, apply to open-air markets and to packaging of bulk food items.

“The bill submitted today would put Israel on par with Western countries, on the one hand limiting the continued pollution of the environment and landscape and on the other hand bringing the public advanced and practical solutions that are suitable substitutes for these bags,” Rozin said.

As far as the Environment Ministry’s bag ban is concerned, the office would first launch a campaign against the usage of plastic bags. Retailers, who spend about NIS 80 million annually on plastic bags, would then fund the distribution of reusable shopping baskets among customers for a limited time period, the ministry said.

A complete prohibition of providing plastic bags for free would then follow.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said he already met with the managers of the country’s major retail chains to update them about his intentions.

The ministry is determining of what materials the multi-use baskets will be made, but stressed that biodegradable bags are not an option, because they only degrade when placed in compost piles and require a lot of energy for production.

“I intend to bring a new reality in which plastic bags will disappear from the landscape and culture,” Peretz said. “Israel will align itself with the most advanced countries in the industry and, here also, shopping will occur by means of reusable baskets.”

The average Israeli uses 275 plastic bags per year, and a quarter of all bags are thrown away immediately after use and remain in landfills for hundreds of years, the Environment Ministry said.

The structure of the bags allow them to fly long distances, and many animals – particularly ibex, in Israel – incur injuries as a result of eating them, the ministry said.

At the moment, about 2 billion plastic bags are distributed in Israel each year, for an average use of about 11 minutes only, Rozin’s bill said.

The legislation proposed in Rozin’s bill would take the form of an amendment to the country’s existing Packaging Law, while the Environmental Protection Ministry has not yet specified whether its bill would fall under the law or appear separately.

Approved in January 2011, the Packaging Law aims to bring packaging waste recycling up to 60 percent by 2015.

In 2008, a bill requiring stores to charge customers money for plastic bags made it through a first reading in the Knesset, but never proceeded further. Two years later, the Council for a Beautiful Israel, to no avail, called for a ban on the bags entirely.

In response to the situation in which two similar bills were announced on the same day, Rozin told The Jerusalem Post on Monday evening that after learning that she would be submitting an amendment on the issue, the Environmental Protection Ministry contacted her.

Ministry officials informed her that they are working quietly on the issue with the relevant companies, and that they would raise their bill in about three or four months, she said.

“They asked me if I would wait for the government bill, and I said I want to hear their proposal and what their agreements are with the companies and I will decide,” Rozin told the Post. “They promised me that we will sit together and find a way to do this together.”

Rozin reinforced that she is looking forward to this meeting and is open to cooperation on the matter.

As far as Zalul and the Council for a Beautiful Israel are concerned, the organizations said they have been working on their solution for many months, after examining models all over the world, and that “only through legislation will it be possible to bring an end to the excessive use of plastic bags in Israel.”

Zalul and the Council called upon the ministry to support their bill, stressing that they all “work for the same goal – stopping the use of harmful plastic bags.”

Taking a look at the rest of the world, the EU’s European Commission adopted a proposal in November 2013 that would require member states to reduce the use of “lightweight plastic carrier bags” in their countries.

If passed, the proposal would amend the EU’s existing Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive by calling for a reduction of plastic bags thinner than 50 microns.

Italy already prohibited the distribution of plastic bags that are not biodegradable in 2011, while several other European countries tax stores that provide the bags, many of which in turn charge usage fees to customers.

On the neighboring continent, China banned the distribution of lightweight plastic bags in 2008, and many other Asian and African nations have launched similar prohibitions or tax schemes.

Although certain cities and regions in the United States and Mexico have enacted either plastic bag prohibitions or introduced taxes on bag use, neither of the two countries, nor Canada, have approved relevant legislation on a nationwide level.
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