Bag politics

At present, supermarkets and local grocery stores pass out these plastic bags free of charge; The cost is passed on to the consumer in the former of higher food prices.

By
November 16, 2014 22:17
3 minute read.
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Plastic bags [illustrative]. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Too often, political considerations prevent the passage of good legislation. Politicians intent on promoting themselves or their party end up harming the national interest.

One such good bill is legislation advanced by former environmental protection minister Amir Peretz that seeks to reduce pollution caused by plastic bags used to package groceries.

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At present, supermarkets and local grocery stores pass out these plastic bags free of charge.

The cost is passed on to the consumer in the former of higher food prices.

As a result, shoppers and supermarket baggers act as if these bags are cost-free and therefore can be used indiscriminately, without thought for the environmental. They overflow our landfills and sully our streets, parks and beaches. The average Israeli uses 275 plastic bags per year, for a total of approximately 2.2 billion bags, the ministry says.

They are not biodegradable, which means they stick around for hundreds of years.

Peretz proposed a simple solution: Supermarkets and grocery stores should be required to charge 30 agorot or 40 agorot for each plastic bag, which is about what they cost wholesale. Supermarket chains should provide consumers with a number of reusable shopping bags, free of charge.

He was not inventing the wheel. It is common for supermarkets to charge for plastic bags throughout Europe, so many fewer are used. People bring reusable bags. True, these are usually made of Dacron, polyethylene or some other non-biodegradable substance. But they can be reused many times before being discarded.

Peretz’s bill is not without critics. There is concern that the legislation would hurt domestic plastic bag manufacturers and result in hundreds of layoffs. He was sensitive to this and included a stipulation in the bill that some of the money charged for bags would be used to help compensate these workers.

At any rate, permitting the damage to the environment to continue cannot be justified for the sake of preventing layoffs.

Peretz’s bill already received government backing in the cabinet and passed a first reading in the Knesset at the end of last month. Thirty-nine MKs supported the bill and not a single lawmaker voted against it. The bill was set to be prepared for its second and third (final) readings so that the law could be implemented by January. But then narrow politics complicated matters.

In protest against government fiscal and foreign policies, Peretz announced last week that he was resigning as environmental protection minister.

That was an eminently respectable move, which demonstrated Peretz’s willingness to give up the trappings and comforts of being a cabinet member to stand by his principles.

It seems, however, that there are politicians in the Likud who want to take revenge on Peretz.

Apparently, they do not want a politician who so openly and blatantly criticized the government to get credit for a bill that, according to a poll conducted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, 70 percent of Israelis support. The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environmental Protection Committee, chaired by MK Miri Regev (Likud), was slated to begin preparing the bill for a final reading last week. But the discussion was canceled.

We would like to believe that the cancellation was not an attempt to bury the legislation. But there have been news reports that members of the Likud – perhaps even very senior members – are interested in torpedoing the bill.

Allowing political interests to get in the way of rational decision-making is always an ugly business.

Peretz’s plastic bag bill is a particularly good piece of legislation that is long overdue. It would be a shame if the ugly side of politics ruins not only a good bill but our environment as well.


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