In a move that could significantly reduce the presence of plastic bags in Israel, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved on Monday Environment Protection Minister Amir Peretz's proposal to ban the free distribution of such bags. If the legislation goes on to receive government approval, the bill mandates that every disposable plastic bag would cost customers 40 agorot. Prior to enforcing a ban on free plastic bags, however, the ministry would supply multi-use baskets for distribution at retail chains for a limited time period.All funds generated by 40-agorot plastic bag purchases would go to financing this program as well as compensating the producers of one-time use plastic bags, the ministry said. "Shopping without bags is the cleanest shopping," Peretz said. "Soon there will be no excuses for anyone. It's time to become part of the advanced countries whose citizens have understood that the minimal comfort they received from free bags in the past will create severe injury to the environment and great damage to our children's future."While plastic bags today are distributed free of charge to customers, their estimated total annual cost is about NIS 80 million and influences prices of products in stores, the ministry explained. According to a poll conducted by the ministry, more than 70% of members of the public surveyed voiced their support for the end to free plastic bag distribution. Currently, every Israeli uses about 275 plastic bags each year, adding up to about 2.2 billion bags annually for the entire country, the ministry said. If the bill passes into law in the government, fines against violators could amount to thousands of shekels, the ministry added.In response to the approval of the bill in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the Forum of Plastic Bag Manufacturers accused the Environmental Protection Ministry of taking advantage of the security situation to hit manufacturers and consumers negatively. Forum members also stressed that Economy Minister Naftali Bennett is expected to appeal the bill in its current form."Despite our request to allow representatives of the manufacturers to present their arguments about the bill, the Environmental Protection Ministry did not permit many of the manufacturers' representatives, who are located under missile attack, to attend a meeting last week on the subject," a statement from the forum said. "We demand that the Environmental Protection Ministry curb the promotion of the bill. It is time to strengthen industry, not hurt it."