The highly publicized Knesset bill that would ban free distribution by supermarkets of plastic bags seems to have little prospect of passing in its current form.
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The proposed legislation was touted as an effort to curb litter and the environmental problem that the bags pose, but lobbying by manufacturers and importers of the plastic bags is impeding its passage. Opposition has also been voiced by some in the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities. The bill would require food retailers to charge 30 agorot (about 8 cents) per bag.
At a meeting of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Wednesday, whose approval is necessary for the legislation to advance, committee chairwoman Miri Regev said it would not be passed in its current form. “There are a lot of problems with this bill,” she stated. “I have been approached by manufacturers, importers, grocery owners and Arab and ultra-Orthodox Knesset members who said that the bill has difficulties.” She said she could not promise to meet a timetable for approval of the bill by January, adding that the 30-agorot charge (to which 18% VAT would also be added) is too high.
In its original plan, the Environmental Protection Ministry sought to require a 60-agorot charge per bag, in an effort to encourage the public to use reusable bags. The fee was cut to 40 agorot by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and reduced to 30 agorot at the request of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. The Environment Ministry also agreed to cut the fee to 20 agorot after two years, and 10 agorot after four years. However, Regev told the committee session that the panel would set the fee.
Officials at the Environment Ministry say that at 30 agorot per bag, the incentive to use reusable bags would be undermined. At 30 agorot, they predict the fee will only reduce the use of disposable bags by about a third. It is estimated that the public uses about 2.6 billion of them a year.
In response to Regev’s concern about how the fee would affect financially strapped people, outgoing Environment Minister Amir Peretz said every household would be provided with reusable bags at no charge as part of the plan. The proposal exempts pharmacies and food sold in bulk, including vegetables and roasted seeds.
Revenue from the collection of the bags would be earmarked in part to an environmental cleanup fund, as well as for financial assistance for local manufacturers of disposable bags. Only about 40% of the disposable bags currently being consumed are thought to be produced in Israel. The balance are mostly from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.