Thanks to the high price of paper in Israel, most supermarkets in the country distribute plastic bags to their customers to tote their groceries – but a Knesset bill that has been winding its way through committee is designed to encourage shoppers to bring their own baskets and bags to market. The Plastic Bag bill, first initiated by former Environment Affairs Minister Amir Peretz, will require supermarket shoppers to pay ten agorot for each plastic bag they use to pack their groceries.
The bill was discussed Monday in the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee. When Peretz proposed the bill, the cost per bag was to be 30 agorot, but current Environment Minister Avi Gabay advocated reducing the cost to ten agorot, in order not to unduly interfere with the ability of poorer families to feed themselves. “If we see that people are not switching to non-disposable bags, we can always raise the price per bag,” Gabay told the business daily Globes.
According to the bill, the money collected by supermarkets for the bags will be transferred to a special fund that will be used to clean up the environment. Currently it is not clear if that fund will be public or private, or which aspect of the environment it will be used to clean up. According to environmental experts, the average Israeli shopper uses ten plastic bags per supermarket shopping trip. Environmental groups quoted by Globes said that the one shekel surcharge a shopper would pay is unlikely to encourage lesser usage of the bags.
Since they are used so frequently, plastic bags are considered a major environmental hazard. According to environment experts, it takes hundreds of years for plastic buried in landfills to decompose, thereby extensively polluting the environment until it does. In addition, environmental groups point to many incidents in which birds and animals ingest or get tangled up in the bags, with many of them suffering and dying as a result.
On the other hand, studies of populations in countries where consumers use cloth bags to tote their groceries home show that there is a marked increase in food sanitation problems. According to those studies, consumers often forget to wash reusable cloth bags, creating a situation that fosters bacterial growth and harms other foods.