Supermarkets Doing Battle Against Plan to Expand Bottle-deposit Law

Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane
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A recycling receptacle for plastic bottles in Tel Aviv, July 26, 2016.
A recycling receptacle for plastic bottles in Tel Aviv, July 26, 2016. Credit: מוטי מילרוד
Hadar Kane
Hadar Kane

A plan by Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry to expand the scope of the bottle-deposit law is meeting up with nearly wall-to-wall opposition from supermarket chains and other big retailers.

Announced two weeks ago by the ministry, it would expand the law to include 1.5-liter bottles. But retailers said the expansion would greatly increase the number of bottles they have to take back. They claim they would have to add more storage space and dedicate other resources to the effort.

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Israel’s Deposit Law, which imposes a 30 agorot (9-cent) refundable charge, applies only to small bottles and cans. Few countries with similar laws exempt 1.5-liter containers. But the government conceded on the issue under pressure from bottlers as well as from the ultra-Orthodox parties, which claimed large families would struggle to pay the extra cost.

The ministry has the power to order the change immediately but Environment Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said she would give the industry a year to prepare for it.

The opposition includes Israel’s biggest supermarket chain, Shufersal, as well as discounter Rami Levy and the drug store chain Superpharm. The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, which is leading the campaign, is considering an appeal to the High Court of Justice.

In a letter to Gamliel, Uriel Lynn, the chamber’s president, complained that because small shops were exempt from taking back bottles for deposit, the responsibility for collection and payment fell entirely on the big retailers. The costs will grow with the expanded law, he said.

“No one will be able to cope with the quantity of large beverage containers being returned to the supermarket chains until they are collected by the recycling company,” said Lynn. “Storing containers will take up considerable space and entail high costs. Storage will also cause serious sanitary problems at the chains and operating costs to handle the big bottles will be heavy, raising the cost of living [for consumers].”

Rami Levy, the owner and funder of the namesake supermarket chain, said the solution was to place automated collection devices outside stores.

“Even today, we’re having trouble coping with the returns,” he said. “Families don’t bring them to the supermarkets to collect a few shekels of deposit money. What happens is that homeless people collect them from garbage cans and come with huge numbers of bottles.

“The head cashier has to count them by hand and pay the deposit. Beyond the health issue, it creates a big mess in the stockroom. If we also have to collect 1.5-liter bottles, no one will be able to do it. That’s a huge volume,” Levy said.

Environmental groups, such as Adam, Teva v’Din, have been fighting in the Knesset and in the courts to expand the deposit law.

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