A bill to eliminate the distribution of free plastic bags in supermarkets is unlikely to advance in its current form, MK Miri Regev (Likud) announced on Wednesday.
“The important proposal seeks to change consumption habits and our behavior, thus reducing the environmental impact caused by the use of a lot of bags. The ministry asked us to quickly advance and implement the law by January, but the offer is complex and will not exit the committee the same way it came in,” said Regev, during a session of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, which she chairs.
Regev first announced she was postponing a discussion on the bill to ban plastic bags till January on November 10 – a day after former environmental protection minister Amir Peretz announced his intention to resign from the government.
Because the legislation had received approval in a first reading, at the Knesset plenary, three weeks before, the discussion on November 10 had been scheduled in preparation of the bill’s upcoming second and third readings.
When Regev postponed the discussion, numerous press reports cited rumors that she was seeking to stymie the bill to take revenge on Peretz, who had championed the bag ban.
At the time, however, Regev denied that she was aiming to thwart its passage.
During Wednesday’s meeting the committee also officially parted from Peretz.
“You have managed to do something amazing. You have brought the social side to the environmental side,” Regev said in her parting words.
Peretz thanked Regev for all her work on the committee and jokingly thanked her for “the drama that you created surrounding the plastic bag law.
Until then only 20% of the public knew what it was, and now – everyone knows.”
The bill in question, approved by the Knesset plenary in the first reading on October 28, would eliminate the distribution of free plastic bags at supermarkets.
Customers would be required to pay 30 agorot for bags, with the price dropping to 20 agorot after two years and then to 10 agorot after four years. All residents would be eligible to obtain free reusable sacks instead, by bringing coupons attached to their electric bills to select supermarkets.
When she announced her intention to postpone the discussion on November 10, Regev stressed that due to the complexities of the bill, it would be impossible to move forward with its approval without the accompaniment of a minister.
Regev pledged that as soon as a new environment minister would replace Peretz, she would resume the bill’s advancement as well as “rethink it.”
That day, Peretz reacted by calling the decision to delay the bill’s passage “scandalous” and harmful to the environment.
In response to Wednesday’s discussion, MK Dov Lipman called the “toppling” of the bill “total environmental irresponsibility.”
During the beginning of the 19th Knesset, Lipman proposed a private bill for the reduction of plastic bags, prior to the Environmental Protection Ministry’s decision to take on the issue.
“We cannot confuse the public, which already saw and heard advertisements on television and on the radio,” Lipman said. “We cannot permit dirty political games, both literally and figuratively, to continue polluting the environment with hundreds of millions of plastic bags.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s renewed discussion, the environmental advocacy group Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) called upon the committee members not only to expedite the bill’s passage but also to make a series of amendments to strengthen its effectiveness.
Adam Teva V’Din recommended the price for plastic bag purchase be set at 30 agorot as written, but the yearly price changes be evaluated annually and reduced only if necessary.
An automatic reduction to 10 agorot is likely to damage the purpose of the legislation, the organization argued.
In mid-July, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation had approved a version of the bill proposed by Peretz that would have charged customers at least 40 agorot per plastic bag they purchase. However, voicing concern about potential impact on consumers, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett filed an appeal against the bill. The ministers eventually came to the aforementioned compromise.
Adam Teva V’Din also called upon committee members to amend the bill such that certain loopholes would be avoided, such as the distribution of free plastic bags in the food aisles.
Nonetheless, the organization’s executive director, Amit Bracha, praised Regev for advancing the bill and emphasized how important the legislation is to the environment.
“This is a considerable mass – more than 2 billion bags annually – of non-biodegradable material that causes severe pollution,” Bracha said.
“Excessive consumption of bags is a clear market failure, and therefore it is right and just to incentivize the public to avoid the pattern of using disposables.”