MKs clash on taxes for disposable utensils, sugary drinks

Objections were made against the tax on disposables, claiming that lawmakers were not given sufficient chance to debate the topic.

Ecoams Planet faces environmental challenge posed by plastic bottles (photo credit: ECOAMS PLANET)
Ecoams Planet faces environmental challenge posed by plastic bottles
(photo credit: ECOAMS PLANET)

Israel’s new tax on disposable utensils that went into effect November 1 was debated in a raucous Finance Committee meeting on Monday. The meeting ended without a vote.

The new legislation taxes disposable plastic utensils, including cups, plates, bowls, cutlery and straws at a rate of NIS 11 per kilogram. However, objections have been raised that lawmakers were not given sufficient chance to debate the change.

A similar debate is due for a tax on sugary drinks that is scheduled to go into effect on January 1.

In September, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman moved the proposed taxes on disposable utensils and sugary drinks out of the Economic Arrangements Law that accompanied the budget into their own pieces of legislation. That would have made the bills’ paths to approval easier, since it would only need to be approved by the finance minister, the head of the Israel Tax Authority, and the Knesset Finance Committee, which is headed by MK Alex Kushnir, a member of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party.

The implementation of the disposables tax was moved to November 1 to prevent people from stockpiling goods ahead of the deadline. However, haredi MKs were able to convince Knesset speaker Mickey Levy to require a hearing on the matter.

Liberman and Zandberg announce new purchase tax initiative for disposable utensils (credit: Courtesy)Liberman and Zandberg announce new purchase tax initiative for disposable utensils (credit: Courtesy)

As the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community uses plasticware at a higher rate than the rest of society, many haredi politicians have attacked the measure as discriminating against them.

“Even if your goal is to fix the world, it must be done with compassion,” said Likud MK Shlomo Karhi. “The one who gets hurt here is the mother who will have to wash dishes for an hour and a half in the evening.”

Israelis are known to be some of the biggest consumers of disposable plastics in the world. They throw away about 70,000 tons of plastics each year, and spend NIS 2 billion on such items, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The new tax, which approximately doubles the price for many items, will reduce their use by about 40%, the Finance Ministry has said.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg made it clear that she intends to pass the tax, and possibly ban plastic utensils completely in Israel in the future.

“Israel is addicted to disposable plastic, especially tableware, and it is time to get rid of it,” she said. “In the EU they chose to completely ban the use of many types of disposable plastic, and most likely the state of Israel will also get there. At this stage we did not choose to ban it.”

Zandberg said that the tax was intended for the purpose of changing public behavior, not raising tax revenues, and rejected the charge that it was motivated by religious politics.

“I implore you, my fellow Knesset members, this is a vital and necessary move for the environment and our children,” she said.

The debate on the sugary drinks tax was also on Monday’s agenda. The plan calls for drinks with high sugar levels to be taxed NIS 1.30 per liter. Diet soft drinks and those with less added sugar, such as flavored waters, will be taxed 70 agorot per liter.

That tax would discourage people from consuming as many of the beverages, which are seen as significant contributors to obesity and deadly medical conditions such as diabetes and cancer and damage to the liver, heart and kidneys. Approximately 40 countries have implemented similar measures and have succeeded in dropping consumption by 20%-50%, according to the World Health Organization.

Dudi Manevitz, chairman of the Association of Food Industries in the Manufacturers’ Association, charged that the tax is based on inaccurate information.

“The OECD data we have in our possession clearly show that Israel’s sugar consumption from food and beverages is the lowest in all OECD countries, the Western world, and the developed countries [except Japan],” he said. “We therefore call for a stop to the pointless taxation, which will not be useful in reducing the volume of sugar consumption, and will only harm Israeli consumers, who are already facing the increase in the cost of living in Israel.”