Every day, Israeli stores and supermarkets give away 14 million plastic bags, which is more than twice the size of Israel’s entire population.
While plastic bags may be handy for bringing back food from the shuk or transporting a cold beverage down to the beach, the question is, why do plastic bags have to be a necessity in Israel? Plastic bags require energy and raw materials to produce, they cost businesses money, and they are difficult to dispose of.
In the US, one can dispose of plastic bags at limited locations like Whole Foods markets, but in Israel there is no real way to dispose of the bags. The best case scenario is that the bag is thrown away in a garbage can, in which case it decomposes over many years in a landfill. This reduces landfill space, and causes the plastic to leach toxic chemicals into the soil upon decomposing.
As is often the case, the light plastic bags blow away and find their way to rivers and the ocean. Dozens of dolphins have died from plastic tossed into the Red Sea, and not long ago an autopsy report on a whale that washed up on an Israeli beach indicated that its death resulted from 4.5 kilograms of plastic bags wrapped inside its belly.
There are currently several organizations working to pass bills to limit Israeli plastic bag use: The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (or Adam Teva V’Din) drafted a legislative bill, which is in its first reading at the Knesset. The ‘plastic bags bill’ is pushing the government to ban or discourage plastic bag use because of the environmental ramifications.
The proposed law provides incentives to consumers to reduce their use of plastic bags in the form of a levy of one shekel (roughly 25 US cents) for every plastic bag taken at supermarkets, to be shown as a separate item on their receipt.
Zalul, an Israeli Environmental Association is also working on ways to petition for limiting plastic bag use in Israel, through the promotion of using less plastics, increasing the number of Recycling Bins, and new technology for thin bags that do not require plastic and are able to decompose faster.
Plastic waste and especially the excessive use of plastic bags have posed problems around the world, and hopefully Israel will soon support alternative ways through legislation and through general culture to limit its currently high use of plastic bags.
Marcus Sopher is currently on an internship with Green Prophet for the summer, where he will be investigating Israeli clean technology, specifically research and products in solar energy,