It’s no secret that Israel has a glaring plastic problem. The consumption of disposable plastics is on a steady rise, producing about a million tons of plastic waste each year. The implications are as evident as they are devastating. Waste among Israel’s Mediterranean shores is among the highest in the region. Microplastic particles floating offshore are poisoning the marine life, and poor waste management results in overflowing landfills, which contaminate surrounding ecosystems.
Now, two cities in Israel have declared war on the intolerable plastic pollution along their beaches by announcing the adoption of strict regulatory measures.
One of those cities, Herzliya, is situated in the center of Israel – just north of Tel Aviv – and is known as one of the country’s rather affluent communities. The city’s beaches are a popular recreational destination among tourists and locals alike. Despite its reputation of being a clean and eco-friendly municipality, its beaches have not been spared from the plastic problem, which is increasingly plaguing many of Israel’s beautiful Mediterranean shores.
A new municipal bylaw is aiming to turn the tide on plastic waste by banning all disposable plastic products on local beaches. Once enacted, any Herzliya beach-goer violating the law by bringing single-use articles such as plastic cups, bottles, utensils or bags will face a fine.
The regulation will be executed as part of the “City without Plastics” initiative, a joint effort of the Herzliya municipality and Zalul ("clear"), an Israeli environmental NGO. The initiative was launched as a pilot project in January 2018, with the goal of gradually reducing all use of disposable plastic products in Herzliya. Over a two-year period, all municipal authorities will begin to discontinue the use of single-use plastics.
In an interview, Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon, said that: “This law is a very important step for the environment and future generations. It is our contribution to a cleaner and healthier environment; to reduce the environmental damage that will harm the world in which we and our children live.”
In addition, Fadlon – who is set on bringing the new law to a national level – wants to create a ripple effect and persuade other cities to follow their example.
“In my capacity as a deputy head of the local government, I will work to ensure that other cities adopt the proposal, and I will work to enact a national law in the Knesset that will obligate all authorities to enforce the law,” Fadlon stressed.
By adopting a plastic ban on Herzliya beaches, the municipality wants to tackle two problems at once. The first one being the direct and aesthetic impact on the beaches, and the second one being the prevention of plastic debris being washed out to sea, thus helping to limit the adverse effects on marine life.
Marine plastic has become one of the world's most urgent ecological problems. Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste reach the world oceans through rivers, urban runoff and sewer systems. Almost all plastic materials are non-degradable and persist in the environment for many thousand years, posing a severe threat to marine ecosystems. Plastic waste is frequently mistaken for food by fish or other marine mammals, causing them to die of either suffocation or poisoning.
Moreover, all microplastics can enter the food web through small organisms that ingest the particles, and can ultimately impact humans. Although the effects of microplastic consumption on human health are not yet known, several studies have found considerable amounts of plastic particles in commercial fish.
The second city is Eilat, located on the southern tip and only entryway to the Red Sea. It is now also taking a stance against plastic pollution. Known for its breathtaking coral reefs and diverse marine life, Eilat has long become a bucket list destination for divers from all over the world. However, tourism always comes at a cost, especially when adequate environmental policies are not in place.
Like Herzliya, the municipality of Eilat has implemented a bylaw that will prohibit not only the use of plastic disposables, but also the sale of single-use articles – such as straws – in shops located on the beachfront.
As a first step, a large-scale awareness campaign is planned to educate beach visitors, businesses and residents about the adverse effects of plastic on the environment and marine life. The campaign – which will be promoted via social media platforms and city-wide billboards – was initiated as a collaborative project of the municipality of Eilat, the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and local organizations and volunteers.
In support of the campaign and the new law proposal, underwater photographer Ziggy Livnat and American artist Heather Nisbett-Lowenstein organized an exhibition called "Red Sea Plastic Free." The exhibition contains a wide range of different artworks from international artists that illustrate the destructive impact of plastic waste on the marine environment and is geared toward the necessity to divest from plastic consumption.
The decision to reduce plastic consumption in Eilat coincides with an announcement by Egypt’s Red Sea Governate to ban all single-use plastics starting this month. This double ban on disposables might have a greater and longer lasting impact on the Red Sea region than expected.
Although they are the first cities in Israel planning to crack down on plastic pollution, Eilat and Herzliya are merely two new arrivals to an already full-blown global movement. Many cities and countries all over the world have either vowed to or have already taken firm actions against plastic disposables.
In December, Peru passed a federal law to phase out single-use plastic bags over the course of three years. In 2017, Chile banned plastic bags from all its coastal cities. Seattle has become the first US city to properly enact a ban on plastic disposables, not only on bags, but straws and single-use plastic utensils. Also, the EU has decided to go against plastics and approved a law under which single-use plastics will be banned in all member states as of 2021. ZAVIT* Science and Environment News Agency
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