The average Israeli purchases and uses five times as many disposable plastic cups, cutlery, drinking straws, bowls and plates as the average West European. Every Israeli, on average, uses 7.5 kilos of disposable plastic per year, an incredible amount. This totals about two billion shekels ($696 hundred million) annually, indicating that Israelis are virtually addicted to their use of plastic disposables.
The use of plastic disposables by Israeli families represents almost three-quarters of the total consumption of these products, compared to Europe, where 62% of consumption is by restaurants and other enterprises and only 38% by families.
This is because Israelis love to eat outdoors, in parks, on the beach, and in the street; because the disposables, made from petroleum byproducts are very cheap; and because the many large families, especially those who don’t have dishwashers, prefer to throw them away after hosting celebrations.
A few years ago, the government managed to place a fee on plastic bags with handles that were available for free in supermarkets, and in December, large plastic soft drink bottles will carry a mandatory deposit and not only the small bottles that have had deposit fees for years. Plastic bottles deposits are covered by the Deposit Law and plastic bags and other packaging under the Packaging Law).
The change was long opposed by ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) families and others with a lower average income who are frequent purchasers of soft drinks and said such a change was “discriminatory.” Lobbying by Haredi politicians against a deposit on the large plastic bottles prevented the upcoming change for years.
Chains of shops that specialize in disposables are everywhere, and whole supermarket aisles are filled with plastic cutlery, utensils, plates and cups that cost less than five shekels (about $1.50) for 100 of them.
But this proclivity has led to the beaches, streets, parks and nature spots and the Mediterranean coast off Israel to be clogged with plastic that never breaks down. This waste chokes fish and other creatures clogs waste treatment facilities and litters the landscape. Small Israel is also running out of landfill dumps for garbage.
There are countries like New Zealand, Canada, and Italy that bar the sale of disposables completely, but this seems impossible in Israel, where their use is so deep-rooted. But one wishes that plastic bottles and other disposables could be collected for immediate cash rebates in places like Geneva parks, where one sees children inserting them to get coins. Today, only supermarkets and grocery stores pay cash for plastic and glass bottles for which deposits were paid by consumers.
Thus, when Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who is the new minister of environmental protection, just announced that the purchase tax on most plastic disposables will be doubled, environmental activists were overjoyed, because it is expected to reduce their sales and use by 40%. The idealistic Zandberg has often spoken forcefully about environmental dangers, and in her first speech as minister, she said she was determined to cut the use of plastic disposables.
She received backing in the decision from Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has the environment primarily in mind, not higher state tax income. He commented that the tax hike must change the Israeli mentality regarding plastic use.
The purchase tax on plastic disposables will be similar to that levied on alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. Legislation is not necessary to make the change, which will take effect in January next year; just a state ordinance is needed to update purchase taxes.
The decision will also affect cafes and restaurants that have served their fast food on disposables as well as day-care centers, kindergartens and schools that will have to purchase dishwashers and reusable plates, cutlery, and cups or wash them by hand.
Environmental quality activists were overjoyed by the bold decision but they added that the tax must be prohibitive and discourage purchases and the taxes levied must be used specifically to improve the environment.