At the beginning of this month, some 30 years after similar legislation was enacted in the United States, Israel's Bottle Deposit Law finally went into effect. But the long-awaited bottle- recycling bill is getting off to a slow start - and does not apply to the family-size plastic beverage bottles (1.5 liters) that comprise the lion's share of containers sold on the local market.
Alon Tal, chairman Life and Environment - an umbrella group of 80 Israeli environmental organizations - credits the Migama Yeruka student environmental movement for its effective lobbying of the bill, which finally made it through the Knesset in April 1999. Originally scheduled to take effect in April 2000, the legislation was amended and rescheduled for implementation in April of this year - and then put off for another six months.
"The long dance of legislation" actually began back in 1994, explained American-born Tal, who has a degree in law from Hebrew University and a PhD in environmental health policy from Harvard Scool of Public Health. The initiative for the law, he told Anglo File, came from the Hadera-based industry Am Nir, which was then looking for additional sources of plastic.
Tal was working at the time for the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, which he had helped to found in 1991.
"Am Nir approached us and I drafted the original bill. [Former Meretz MK] Dedi Zucker submitted the original bill. At the same time, [Shinui MK Avraham] Poraz was working on a solid-waste bill. Poraz and Zucker combined efforts on the proposed legislation, which was opposed by bottlers and retailers."
Tal recalled that current Finance Minister Silvan Shalom was also one of the early opponents, because "it would bring Israeli housewives back to the era of the 1950s."
The exemption for 1.5-liter bottles is the result of opposition from Shas MKs, who claimed that the 25-agora deposit fee would impose a burden on the large families who typically consume these large-size drinks.
Environment Minister Tzachi Hanegbi has called these objections "totally unfounded" and indicated that his ministry plans to work on amending the Bottle Deposit Law to include the 1.5-liter containers.
But as long as the exemption on these bottles remains in effect, we can expect to still see the bottle-collection cages for them and other containers currently deployed at shopping centers and on neighborhood streets.
Meanwhile, the law requires that smaller bottles be specially marked for deposit by the bottlers, and that stores selling these individual-size drinks be prepared to accept the empty containers from consumers and to return the 25-agora deposits. (Small groceries of less than 28 square meters are exempt from this requirement, as are restaurants where drinks are consumed on the premises.)
A special corporate entity is slated to handle the actual transport and recycling of the collected containers, but was still being organized as the law went into effect this week.
In the meantime, supermarkets are still selling their inventories of beverages produced before October 1, which are not required to carry the deposit fee.
"Reverse vending machines" which "digest" the empty containers and remit the deposit are on order, but will probably only arrive in December, Tal said.
Despite the 1.5-liter loophole in the new law and the incomplete preparations for its implementation, environmental organizations regard it as an important step toward reducing landfill waste and litter.
The aim is to eventually recycle at least 80 percent of the approximately one billion beverage containers consumed in Israel each year. (In Oregon in the U.S., which enacted the first such bottle bill three decades ago, the recycling rate has reached about 85 percent of beverage containers.)
Tal suggested that the Bottle Deposit Law is also important because, while "people today are more environmentally aware, they are often bewildered about what they can do to help. Another merit of the law, therefore, is that it provides the public with a way to do something positive about the environment."
The new Bottle Deposit Law tacks on a 25-agora deposit fee onto all beverage containers - including aluminum cans and glass bottles - with the following exceptions:
1. Containers of milk or milk products
2. Plastic beverage bags
3. Paper or cardboard containers
4. Containers with a capacity of less than 0.1 liter
5. Containers with a capacity of 1.5 or more liters.