Stores: Plastic-Bag Use Off By as Much as 85 Percent

Rami Levy. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Two weeks after plastic bags began costing Israeli shoppers money, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of bags used, according to the supermarkets that are most affected by the law. Depending on the chain and location, the use of plastic bags has fallen by between 50 percent and 85 percent, according to the stores.

Under the plastic bag law, shoppers who ask for bags to pack their groceries need to pay ten agurot per bag. Legislators had debated whether or not the measure would be effective; the average Israeli supermarket shopper uses ten plastic bags per shopping trip, government figures showed, so it wasn’t clear that the addition of an extra shekel to a grocery bill that could mount into the hundreds of shekels would have prevented shoppers from asking for bags.

But apparently the fact that bags are no longer free has been enough to convince shoppers not to ask for them, according to Rami Levi, chairman of the supermarket chain that bears his name. “There has been great response to the law, and we are distributing 80 percent fewer plastic bags,” he told business daily Globes. “It’s not a matter of money, but a matter of culture and consciousness among customers. When the bags were free, people didn’t even think about using them, and they would put each item in a separate bag. Now, because you have to ask for them and pay for them, and because of the heavy publicity in the media about the law, people are much less wasteful, and many bring bags from home.”

David Loren, Deputy Director of Operations at Supersol, Israel’s biggest supermarket chain, also said that there had been a “dramatic fall in the number of bags being used. Supersol customers generally use 500 million bags a year, and we estimate that we will at least halve that number. There has been a significant change in the behavior of customers, and we see that people are taking the law seriously, and bring cloth or nylon bags with them.”

One complaint customers have had has been with the lack of cloth bags that the supermarkets were supposed to distribute for free. The bags, meant to be reused many times, were to be distributed for free through January 17, but many customers said that the stores did not have any in stock. The heads of the chains told Globes that many stores had indeed run out of the bags because of high demand, but that they would provide rainchecks to any customers who did not get the bags they were entitled to so they could collect them at a later date.