Plastic-Bag Law Gets Mixed Reactions

YERUSHALAYIM -

What price must Israelis pay for environmental protection?

The new shopping bag law requires shoppers to pay a 10 agurot (2.6 cents) tax for each plastic shopping bag taken at the checkout counter. Passed by the Knesset last March and made effective January 1st, it is intended as a disincentive to the unrestricted use of plastic bags, which are non-biodegradable and deemed harmful to the environment.

On Sunday, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), denounced the law as “degrading.”

“I just left Rami Levy [a supermarket chain]. There aren’t any bags – so there aren’t any workers bagging groceries,” Smotrich posted. “What a great way [Finance Minister] Kahlon found for tycoons to cut down on costs with this stupid, unnecessary law.”

“More than just the money, it’s such a degrading experience to have the cashier counting how many bags you’re using,” he added.

It was a change of heart for Smotrich, who, along with all his colleagues, approved the law by unanimous vote last year.

But since January, the new regime has reportedly been unpopular at checkout, with people complaining that counting and charging for the bags has slowed down checkouts and acted effectively as a regressive tax on poorer families with large numbers of children, Arutz Sheva reported.

But whether they like it or not, the bag use behavior of Israelis has already undergone a major change.

At the Victory supermarkets chain, plastic bag use is down by 85 percent; at Rami Levy 80 percent; and at AM:PM plastic bag usage has fallen 60 percent, according to Haaretz.

The demand for multi-use bags to replace the plastic ones has been so strong that stores say there’s a shortage.

“There’s been a sea change in behavior. We’re seeing customers coming in with their own plastic bags and knapsacks. There’s a financial element here, even though the charge is just 10 agorot a bag,” said one retailer.

“When the bags were free, people paid no attention to them and would put a single item in each bag,” he said. “Today, because they have to pay for them and it’s being talked about in the media, awareness has grown a lot and so have environmental considerations. People are putting several items in each bag and bringing baskets from home.”

To help get things started, the law requires the big retail chains to offer multiuse bags for free on purchases over 100 shekels until January 17.