Slowly but surely, Israel is awakening to the fact that there’s a global environmental crisis.
Despite its small size and ongoing prioritization of security, economic and health issues, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, it’s become clear that the country cannot bury its head in the sand when it comes to environmental issues or not prioritize them as being of vital importance.
In addition to Israel’s participation in last month’s UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, there have been developments on the ground as well that indicate the government understands the urgency of the situation.
The Knesset passed important legislation that came into effect last month that adds an NIS 11 per kilogram tax on manufacturers of disposable plastic utensils, including cups, plates, bowls, cutlery and straws.
The goal of the tax is to cut the public consumption of those products, and follows a study by the Environmental Protection Ministry which concluded that doubling the price to the consumer would reduce usage by about 40%.
As we reported at the end of the month, the tax seems to be having its desired effect.
“Sales of disposable plastics in the past month have gone down by 50-60%,” said Dubi Goldberg, manager of the Super HaMoshava grocery store in Jerusalem. “People are buying only what they absolutely need, and focusing more on biodegradable products that are not taxed.”
Israelis are known to be some of the biggest consumers per capita of disposable plastics in the world.
According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, Israelis throw away about 70,000 tons of plastics each year, and spend NIS 2 billion annually on such items. The annual Israeli household consumption of disposable plastic products is about 7.5 kg. per capita, five times more than in the European Union. In the last decade, the rate of consumption of disposable utensils in Israel has doubled
The new tax will help those numbers decrease. Another encouraging measure that went into effect this week, which will likely reduce litter and aid Israel’s environmental efforts, is the inclusion of large plastic bottles (1.5-5 liters) in the Deposit Law.
The law, passed in 1999 and implemented in October 2001, required beverage manufacturers and importers to collect and recycle empty drink containers for bottles between 100 milliliters and 1.5 liters. According to Environment Protection Ministry Director-General Galit Cohen, “the share of large bottles is 75% of all plastic bottles in Israel. The plastics pollute our environment and harm our health.”
The lack of inclusion of large bottles, until now, as well as the fight over the disposable utensil tax, derived from haredi opposition. Haredi MKs claimed that the measures were discriminatory against them due to their large families and greater reliance on both extra-big beverage containers and disposable eating utensils.
On the contrary, they should join the rest of the country’s citizens in applauding these moves, and do their part to clean up the unsightly litter that is omnipresent on our roads, beaches and public spaces.
Environmental Protection Minister MK Tamar Zandberg applauded the bottle decision, saying: “Twenty years late, with many delays, an expansion of the Deposit Law came into force that would turn the large plastic bottles from waste that pollutes the open areas, sea and public space into a recycling resource.”
According to the Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann Institute, plastic bottles will begin to break down only after 500-700 years and even then, the process will be very slow. Plastic bags will begin the process only after a thousand years.
As a comparison, if the crusaders and Salah a-Din had used plastic bags during their the Horns of Hattin battle (1187 AD), the remnants would still be around for archaeologists to examine.
If we don’t want future generations to suffer as a result of our conspicuous consumption, it’s up to all segments of society to get behind these positive, but long-delayed, moves and make changes in our buying habits.
Reduce using disposable one-time products, return deposit bottles and stop littering. It’s not really a big deal and it can ultimately make a world of difference.