There was an 80% drop last year in the consumption of disposable plastic shopping bags at the country’s supermarket chains after a law took effect on January 1, 2017 requiring food retailers to charge 10 agorot (around 3 cents) per bag, the Environmental Protection Ministry reported this week.
That’s a savings of 7,091 tons of plastic – the equivalent in weight of nearly 400 buses.
In an effort to cut plastic waste, the law bans the free distribution of disposable plastic bags at the supermarket checkout counter. It does not apply to smaller grocery stores or fruit and vegetable markets.
The large supermarket chains collectively reported selling 378 million plastic bags last year as consumers opted for reusable canvas or plastic shopping bags, or simply made do with few disposable ones. The figure is in stark contrast to the 1.8 billion bags that the retailers provided the public for free in 2016, before the law took effect.
When they end up as litter, the bags constitute a big and unwelcome eyesore on the Israeli landscape, cluttering roadsides, beaches and parks. They were also costing retailers some 88 million shekels a year, a cost that the law’s supporters said was inevitably passed on to consumers.
The law does not require other retailers to charge for bags. As a result, the overall drop in the consumption of disposable plastic bags from stores of all kinds, including, for example, drug store chains and clothing retailers, was 53%. In 2016, retailers dispensed 2.8 billion plastic bags, a whopping annual 325 bags per Israeli, while in 2017, the figure was cut to 1.5 billion bags, or 171 bags per capita.
In light of the new data, the Environmental Protection Ministry has set itself a target of 120 bags per person per year for the period from 2025 to 2030 and an ambitious 65 bags per person per year beginning in 2031.
The new law requires that the food chains report on a quarterly basis what they collected and in turn transfer the amount into an environmental cleanup fund managed by the ministry. About 40 million shekels ($11 million) has thus far been deposited into the fund.
Despite the law’s relative success, the ministry has no plans to expand it to include other types of retailers or to raise the required bag charge. “The recommendation is not to extend the law at this stage to other businesses. Expanding the law to thousands of other businesses will not bring about a significant reduction in the number of bags used,” the ministry’s report summarizing the results from last year said, “and would not promote the goals of the law, instead mainly increasing the economic burden on the public and the regulatory burden on other businesses in a manner that would not withstand a cost-benefit test.”
Ministry officials made it clear, however, that they would not rule out expanding the scope of the law in the future.
Commenting on the data for 2017, Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin said: “The results speak for themselves. Israelis have warmly embraced the environmental change and the economic savings that it entails. We have set targets to reduce the use of bags based on the major success of the law.”
The director general of the Environment Ministry, Yisrael Dancziger, added: “The public is cooperating in an impressive way. We are also encouraged by the public’s willingness to address other types of refuse through our policies, such as construction and household refuse.”
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