Going Green, Israel Says Goodbye to Free Plastic Bags in Supermarkets

Knesset approves law imposing 3-cent charge for plastic bags starting in 2017.

Israeli shoppers carrying plastic bags.
Tomer Appelbaum

The nylon shopping bags supermarkets and other retailers provide at checkouts will starting costing shoppers 10 agorot (3 cents) each starting in 2017 after the Knesset approved a law late Monday aimed at clamping down on the environmental nuisances.

Supermarkets and other stores give away some 2.2 billon nylon shopping bags every year – an average of 275 for every Israeli – making it easier to carry home goods and providing free advertising for the merchants.

But the bags also constitute a big and unwelcome eyesore on the Israeli landscape, cluttering roadsides, beaches and parks. They also cost retailers some 88 million shekels a year, a cost that the law’s supporters said were inevitably passed on the consumers.

“We’ve taken an important step in preserving the environment without adding to the cost of living,” said Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Kulanu), who revived the legislation after it died in the Knesset in the previous government.

Under the law, which goes into effect next January 1, all nylon bags with widths of less than 20 microns are banned. Big retail chains, but not smaller outlets, will be required to charge at least 10 agorot for the bags that are allowed.

The law entitles the environment minister to extend it to other retailers and to raise the charge as he sees it. Environmental organizations, which had been lobbying for the law for years but had called for a steeper, 30-agorot charge, were not enthusiastic about the new law.

“The whole idea of the bag law was that the public wouldn’t have to pay a tax because it would change habits and stop them from using the bags. A 10 agorot charge for a bag isn’t going to change anything, so Gabbay’s law is just a tax on the public,” said Amit Bracha, CEO of Adam, Teva V’Din.