Knesset plenary passes bill eliminating free plastic bags in first reading

The bill was approved late Monday night with 39 members voting in favor and four abstaining, and will now be advanced to the Knesset House Committee for a second and third reading.

October 28, 2014 08:44
3 minute read.

Wide view of the Knesset. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The Knesset plenary approved in a first reading a bill that aims to prohibit the free distribution of plastic grocery bags and provide consumers with reusable options.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz presented the bill to the Knesset, pledging to “fight the phenomenon that has become a symbol of wastefulness and exacted severe environmental costs.”

After disagreeing on the bill for some time, Peretz and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett compromised on the price for plastic bag sales at 30 agorot in September, allowing the legislation to move forward.

The bill was approved late Monday night with 39 members voting in favor and four abstaining, and will now be advanced to the Knesset House Committee for a second and third reading.

“Already in a few months wasteful bags won’t be distributed in convenience stores and supermarket chains,” Peretz said following the vote. “All Knesset members who voted in favor of the law are joining with me today in the struggle against an addiction that has become a dangerous and polluting reliance.”

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation in mid-July approved the original text of the bill proposed by Peretz that would have banned the disposable bags and charge customers at least 40 agorot per plastic bag they purchase. Voicing concern about potential impact on consumers, Bennett filed an appeal against the bill, but the ministers were able to come to an agreement.

Assuming the Knesset goes on to approve the legislation in its second and third readings, for the first two years consumers will have to pay only 30 agorot per bag – a price that will then drop to 20 agorot. Four years after the bill has been approved, the tariff would then drop again and stand permanently at 10 agorot, according to the ministries.

During an interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this month, Peretz stressed that the gradual price drop in plastic bags would not likely lead to a resumption of their use in large numbers. Rather, the minister said, he expects that “within four years it will become part of the culture” to avoid plastic bag use.

At the end of August, the CEOs of several grocery chains pledged to purchase Environmental Protection Ministry sponsored reusable bags, which are set to be distributed in their stores for free once the bill receives final approval.

In order to acquire their bags, customers would receive two coupons, likely in their electricity bills, for a total of seven reusable bags that they can pick up at stores.

There are two types of bags that consumers will receive: the first, a 15-kg.

“stylish” bag made of Dacron – the material used for military uniforms – that can be folded into a multi-pack, 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 include slogans on their sides discouraging the use of disposable alternatives, the ministry said.

Enforcement of the legislation will be accompanied by television campaigns to make the public aware of the transition, the ministry added.

Since Peretz assumed the role of environmental protection minister, eliminating free plastic bags from the market has been a major task of his office, the ministry said. A survey conducted by the ministry indicated that more than 70 percent of Israelis support an end to free plastic bag distribution.

Currently, each Israeli uses about 275 plastic bags each per year, totaling approximately 2.2 billion bags annually for the entire country, the ministry said.

Once approved, violations against the bill could amount to tens of thousands of shekels, according to the bill’s text.

The environment minister has assured manufacturers of plastic bags that they will be suitably compensated for their market losses.

In a Knesset House Committee discussion prior to Monday’s vote, MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) criticized Peretz’s plans to eliminate free plastic bags, accusing the ministry of trying to burden taxpayers and harm the cost of living.

“I use supermarket bags for my household trash.” Shaked said. “Now I’ll have to buy trash bags.”

In response, Peretz argued that supermarket plastic bags are nonbiodegradable and take 100 years before they are broken down. Standards exist, however, for garbage bags.

“The goal is not for you to pay for bags but for you not to use them,” he said.

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