Bill Requiring Israeli Supermarkets to Charge for Plastic Bags Advances

In first phase, big chains would be forced to collect 10 agorot from customers for each bag.

Israeli shoppers carrying plastic bags.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee on Monday approved for second and third readings in the Knesset a bill aimed at reducing the use of plastic supermarket bags. The draft law would require large supermarket chains to charge customers 10 agorot (2.5 cents) for each bag. Ultra-thin bags (less than 20 microns thick) would be banned entirely.

The law, which aims to give customers an incentive to take reusable bags with them when they do their grocery shopping, is similar to laws in some European countries and U.S. states. The money collected by the supermarkets is to go to a special clean-up fund to be administered by the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The bill also gives the environmental protection minister the right to expand the law to all retail businesses as well as to raise the price charged for bags, though either step would require the Knesset committee’s approval.

After Monday’s vote, the Environmental Protection Ministry announced that supermarkets spend some 88 million shekels ($22.9 million) annually on plastic bags and roll that expense over to consumers. An estimated 2.2 billion plastic bags are used every year, with each Israeli using an average of 275. The litter caused by such bags poses a hazard to wild animals, which can choke on them.

Some experts believe the 10-agorot charge is too low to change consumer behavior. Amit Bracha, the director of Adam Teva V’Din, formerly known as the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, said the charge would in effect be a tax that will not have a real effect on the environment.

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay recently noted that the charge is relatively low in order to give the manufacturers of single-use plastic bags time to prepare for the change.

“We are taking an important step to protect the environment without increasing the cost of living,” Gabbay said on Monday.