Smotrich publishes draft to cancel disposable utensil tax

Having had his eye on the tax’s cancellation for a while, Smotrich has moved to follow through on his goal, and will likely target a tax on soft drinks next.

 Religious Zionist head Bezalel Smotrich attends a discussion in the Israeli parliament on the TV-show "Shtula" (Double agent), airing on Israeli TV,  November 21, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Religious Zionist head Bezalel Smotrich attends a discussion in the Israeli parliament on the TV-show "Shtula" (Double agent), airing on Israeli TV, November 21, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has published for public comment a draft decree canceling the tax imposed on disposable utensils until the end of 2023, with the expectation that the cancellation of the tax will lower the end price of said products for consumers.

The tax being eyed for cancellation was enacted under the authority of former Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman in November 2021, in order to reduce the use of disposable plastic utensils. A purchase tax of 11 NIS per kg was imposed on plastic utensils and 3.3 NIS per kg on disposable paper utensils containing plastic.

The response to the tax was mixed, with heavy criticism coming from Israel’s Haredi community, which relies heavily on disposable cutlery and dishes. United Torah Judaism MK and Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni claimed that the taxes were intended “first and foremost to harm the haredi public.”

As well, there was significant outcry from Israel’s small business restaurant owners, who felt that the tax was a significant hurdle to overcome during the ongoing period of takeaway food orders that was triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I understand that it’s to combat the global [climate] issue, that’s good, I understand,” said a Pardes Hanna-Karkur coffee-shop owner. Despite the tax’s good intentions, however, “It’s not making people purchase any less.”

Environmentalists were also unimpressed with the tax’s implementation, claiming that it only hindered lower-class populations and neglected to cull the issue at its source.

 ISRAEL HAS enforced a tax on plastic bags since 2017. (credit: VOLODYMYR HRYSHCHENKO/UNSPLASH) ISRAEL HAS enforced a tax on plastic bags since 2017. (credit: VOLODYMYR HRYSHCHENKO/UNSPLASH)

“In general, environmental regulation [...] is a positive regulation. This is especially true in Israel, where waste rates are among the highest in Western countries,” said Meital Peleg Mizrachi, a Consumption and Environmental Justice researcher in the department of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University. “However, in the case of disposable plastic, proper and good regulation is legislation that prohibits the use of disposable plastic and does not dissolve its use.”

“Taxation on disposable plastic is portrayed as taxation that harms the weaker sections and allows those with economic capabilities to continue to pollute unhindered,” she said.

Soft Drink Tax is the next to go

Besides the cancellation of the utensil tax, Smotrich also intends to cancel a tax on the price of soft beverages which was put into place by Liberman in early 2022.

Intended to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and thereby stem the abundance of diabetes within Israel — which, according to the Taub Center, is among the highest in the developed world — the tax has been a primary point of interest for Smotrich. Last week, the Finance Minister instructed his ministry to prepare directives to cancel the tax.

Criticizing Smotrich’s decision, former Environmental Protection minister and current Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg stated that the cancellation of the soft drink and disposable utensil taxes “will contribute only to pollution and disease.”

“The new government is allowing petty politics to destroy the environment and health. Instead of moving forward, this decision brings us back light years,” Zandberg said, calling on new Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman to “decisively oppose this harmful move.”