Bag bans are nothing new in many parts of the world. In most cities in Europe it's expected that shoppers bring their own reusable bags with them. For the past few years in the US, laws have slowly been making their way across the country, from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., ending free plastic bags and requiring shoppers pay at least five cents for each bag they wish to pack their groceries or drugstore purchases in. This has all been done in an effort to save the environment - less plastic bags in circulation means less wind up as litter in open spaces and in waterways. Additionally, since plastic tends to be made from petroleum, it means people are even further cutting their dependence on dirty fossil fuels. It seems the trend has finally made its way to Israel, with a proposed bill that has been under consideration for a long time finally making its way through the final stages before becoming a law. Israelis use approximately 2 billion plastic bags every year, so this has the potential to have a huge positive impact on the environment.
The bill is a long time coming in the eyes of many Israelis. The country has beautiful, bucolic landscapes that are often marred with litter, especially brightly colored plastic bags. While there are numerous groups that try to collect the trash, it's a losing battle. Few garbage cans (for security reasons) paired with windy conditions along the country's coast and mountains, means the light bags can fly far away from their original deposition, out into the wilderness. One study, conducted about 25 years ago, found that over 71% of all litter in Israel was plastic - a number that has inevitably gone up as society has relied on an ever increasing number of plastic goods and packaging.
First introduced to the Knesset last year by Minister of the Environment Amir Peretz (also credited with helping the Iron Dome come into existence), the bill has cleared a major hurdle with the recent announcement that the ruling coalition plans on supporting the bill when it comes up for vote - virtually guaranteeing it's passage.
Not everyone is in favor of the bill - which will charge shoppers 40 agurot (about 12 cents in US Dollars) for every bag they want to purchase. For one, you can see the fee per bag is more than twice that charged in many places in the US. Opponents of the bill claim this is nothing more than a scam for the government to raise additional revenue - expected to be as much as $23 million US Dollars a year (80 million shekels). The biggest ruckus being raised is from the Plastics Manufacturing Association, which stands to lose a lot of money from significantly less plastic bag orders. The fact is, more than two-thirds of all Israelis support the bill.
Minister of the Economy, Naftali Bennet, who is part of the ruling coalition, vowed to try and stop the bill, claiming the average family will be forced to pay hundreds of shekels each year for plastic bags to bring home their purchases. Fortunately, consumers won't be left empty-handed. As part of the law, free reusable tote bags will be given out in the weeks leading up to the new fee, ensuring everyone has the ability to keep the environment in Israel cleaner without having to pay a cent (or agurah!).
Shayna Hulkower is an Olah Chadasha, living in Jerusalem. She enjoys trying to speak Hebrew, finding the humor in every situation (especially dating), and is looking forward to the day she can successfully argue b'Ivrit. You can also view her blogs Curls of Wisdom, Shomer Tel Aviv on all things kosher in Tel Aviv, and on Twitter @shaynahulkower.