As 2017 begins, Israeli shoppers will no longer find free plastic bags available as they collect their groceries in supermarket checkout lines.
On Sunday, the country’s Plastic Bag Law took effect – banning lightweight plastic bags from large grocery chains entirely, and enabling the sale of thicker ones for a 10-agorot fee. With the entrance of the new law, Israeli joins many other countries around the world in a global effort to reduce the amount of disposal plastic bags accumulating in the world’s garbage dumps, parks and oceans.
According to the law, the distribution of bags with a thickness of 20 microns or less is now forbidden at supermarkets, while customers must pay for those between 20 and 50 microns.
However, bags that come into direct contact with food, such as those provided for fruits and vegetables, are still available for free, as long as they do not have handles.
While customers may now have to pay for bags on the checkout lines of large supermarkets, they can still find plastic bags for free at a number of other types of shops around the country. At the moment, the new legislation applies only to large grocery chains, and not to convenience stores, market stalls, drug stores or other shopping venues.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether such a policy diminishes the law’s effectiveness, the Environmental Protection Ministry maintained that starting with supermarkets was an optimal first step.
The Plastic Bag Law grants the environment minister the right, with the approval of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, to apply the law to an expanded number of venues, the ministry explained. Nonetheless, a ministry survey indicated that 60% of all plastic bags used by consumers originate in the large supermarket chains.
“Therefore, in order to achieve maximum efficiency, the ministry decided to focus at this stage precisely on the supermarket chain sector, where a reduction of bag use will reduce the use of bags in the economy in general, and will enable the most effective environmental outcome,” the ministry said. “The text of the law empowers the minister, with the approval of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, if and when the ministry sees this as the appropriate step.”
In order to encourage members of the public to refrain from spending 10 agorot on plastic bags, the Environment Ministry is subsidizing the provision of multi-use “baskets” – large tote bags – at a variety of supermarket chains in January.
Customers can receive one reusable tote bag at no additional cost, with grocery purchases of NIS 101-249. They can receive two bags for purchases of NIS 250-399, three bags for NIS 400- 549, four bags for NIS 550-750 and five bags for purchases of NIS 751 or more.
The tote bags are available at Rami Levy, C.N. Market Storages Ltd., Keshet Teanim, ABA Victory Holding & Management, Yohananov M. & Sons, Bar- Col and Big & Cheap.
The journey to curb plastic bag use in Israel began more than three years ago, and the proposed legislation that followed underwent many iterations – and several Knessets – before finally receiving unanimous approval in the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee in March.
The law was the brainchild of former environmental protection minister Amir Peretz (Zionist Union), who initially met with supermarket chain heads in September 2013, and ultimately submitted a bill in May 2014. While the legislation received approval in a first reading in October 2014, second and third (final) readings did not occur before the breakup of the 19th Knesset.
Peretz’s legislation initially called for customers to pay 60 agorot for plastic bags.
Although he eventually eased these terms to include a 30-agorot charge for the first two years, which would gradually drop to 20 agorot and then 10 agorot, the bill remained much stricter than today’s version.
As the current Plastic Bag Law went into effect on Sunday, however, Peretz emphasized the importance of the legislation.
“The law is a part of a world view that changes the culture of consumption and the relationship to the environment,” Peretz said. “Reducing bag use will also lighten each family’s shopping cart and prevent wasteful and unnecessary purchases.”
In contrast with Peretz’s view, Prof. Ofira Ayalon, head of the Natural Resources and Environmental Management Department at the University of Haifa, said she felt that the Plastic Bag Law would not achieve the desired effects.
Ayalon posited that most consumers would pay the 10-agorot fee and continue to use the bags, stressing that plastic bags represent just a small fraction of the waste management problems in Israel. Meanwhile, because so many Israelis use the free plastic bags as garbage bags, they will now need to buy other bags specially, she added.
“The law to reduce the use of one-time use bags that entered into force today is an unnecessary law, will not achieve its goals and will only burden the Israeli public,” Ayalon said. “A fee of 10 agorot on plastic bags will not cause a material change in the levels of consumption.”
Nehama Ronen, chairman of the Ela Recycling Corporation, voiced her support for the law itself, but said that the low 10-agorot fee for bags will prevent the law from truly being effective.
“The price collected is negligible and the consumer does not feel any real pain in his pocket,” Ronen said. “It takes years to change habits and requires significant operations like in Europe, where some countries do not provide bags at all and where others collect a higher fee for a single bag, like half a euro.”