Opinion

Of Course We Should Put a Tax on Plastic

Volunteers clean Jaffa's beach from plastic.
David Beer-Gabel

The State of Israel has a huge deficit. Some 5.6 billion shekels ($1.58 billion) are missing from the budget. That being the case, one of the first actions the next government will have to do is raise taxes.

This week during a conference sponsored by the Israeli business daily and website Calcalist, the Finance Ministry’s budgets department chief, Shaul Meridor, said that one path under consideration to fill the hole is positive economics. What that means is, taxing negative products to encourage certain consumer behavior. He gave two examples: Raising taxes on sweetened beverages to fight diabetes, and raising taxes on single-use plastic items to limit damage to the environment.

With regard to the second example, Meridor added: “The use of disposable plastic is a dramatic phenomenon globally. Imposing a tax like this will limit its use and lead to us to a better values-based and cleaner society.”

Strong words. And if they are translated into action, all the better! The average use of a disposable plastic dish is about two minutes, but its remains survive forever, and reach everywhere. Really everywhere. Into the bellies of whales, the roots of trees and even the deepest places in the ocean, as photographed by an underwater robot.

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Imposing taxes on this diabolical material, which pollutes everything and every living cell on the planet, is a step that should have been taken long ago, and taxing it is certainly a proper way to cover the deficit left by an irresponsible government. Why proper? Because it’s a tax that gives us a choice: Don’t want to pay the tax on disposable plastic?  Very simple: Don’t buy any.

The question as to how much this tax would reduce the use of plastic is irrelevant to the discussion. Clearly we must impose this tax to encourage more sustainable consumerism, but mainly we must do it as a declarative act through which we state: “This material is terrible! It’s a disaster.”

Human society is measured among other things by the red lines it sets for itself, by what it permits and what it prohibits. No one thinks that the law against murder should be abolished merely because the existence of the law does not prevent murder. We must think of environmental laws the same way: Passing them is our way of declaring that we seek a more environmentally aware society.

Raising taxes should be the first step toward this goal, and it should be followed by a complete ban on non-biodegradable plastic. In this way, step by step, we formulate a moral and socially-aware environmental code. Four hundred cities and countries have already formulated one and have either banned the use of these accursed products or have levied taxes against them. All we have to do to is join them ahead of an all-out revolution.

Even the people who are afraid they’ll lose from this tax, like manufacturers of single-use plastic or large groups in Israeli society that make extensive use of disposable plastics, will thank us. It’s a wonderful tax because no one loses – we all win. Even the people who think this downgrades their quality of life understand that in the long run we’re saving them from a huge catastrophe that will not leave anyone untouched.