February 19, 2017

Paying for plastic bags at the grocery store has become commonplace around the world in recent years. After much debate, Israel officially adopted its own Plastic Bag Law on January 1 of this year. Mixed reactions made it difficult to know whether it would be embraced or spark protest.

But just two weeks after consumers were told they’d have to pay 10 agorot (about 3 cents) per plastic bag, big supermarket chains reported a whopping 80 percent reduction in plastic-bag usage.

“The law is aimed at motivating Israelis to use environmentally friendly reusable bags. The goal of the legislation, which was passed on March 28, 2016, is to reduce the amount of polluting plastic bags that are produced in Israel, since these bags are very harmful to the environment,” explained the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Rami Levy, founder of an eponymous Israeli supermarket chain, told Haaretz that although consumers were hesitant in the first days of the law going into effect, they changed their attitudes in less than two weeks. Now they’re coming into the supermarket with knapsacks or multiuse bags.

“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.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry had ordered big retail chains to offer multiuse bags for free on purchases over 100 shekels until January 17. The unexpectedly quick adoption created a shortage.

The country’s only maker of environmentally friendly reusable bags has had to hire more staff and add around-the-clock shifts to keep up with demand, according to Aviram Frost, a founder of RavSal Technologies, which makes the multiuse bags and brands them for retailers.

“Prior to the law going into effect, we made some 100,000 to 150,000 bags each month. Right now, we’re talking about over 2 million multiuse bags every month,” Frost told Army Radio. “We’re now adding production lines and every three months we’ll add 12 employees.”

While weaning Israelis off their plastic bag habit was initially deemed an enormous task – after all, figures showed that the local population used a whopping 2.2 billion of these bags every year — the success of the initiative has proven that breaking bad habits isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Israel’s nature reserves, parks and playgrounds could very well soon be free of plastic bag litter.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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