Israel axes single-use plastic tax as environmentalists decry violation of “basic Jewish values”
10 Jan 2023 --- Israel’s newly formed government has pledged to axe the country’s tax on single-use plastics, reportedly in an attempt to appease low-income ultra-Orthodox communities who cannot afford the dishwashing equipment needed to make reusable packaging viable. Opponents say this view is “narrow” and seriously threatens the nation’s natural environment.
Finance minister Bezalel Smotrich made the decision immediately after being sworn in on December 29 last year, saying he would end the tax “as quickly as possible.” Smotrich is the leader of the ultranationalist Religious Zionist Party, which gained power in the new coalition government last month – one that is said to be the most far-right in the country’s history.
Along with widely reported accusations against Smotrich for his outspoken homophobia, support for Jewish supremacy and promotion of the occupation in Palestine’s West Bank, the minister now faces heavy criticism from Israeli environmentalists, who brand the tax’s abolition an ironic violation of “basic Jewish values.”
The tax introduced in November 2021 applies a levy of 11 NIS (US$3.12) per kg of plastic and NIS 3.3 (US$0.94) for plastic-coated paper. The tax applies to cups, plates, bowls, cutlery and straws.
Religious disputes, environmental fallout
Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection reports a 50% drop in plastic consumption since the tax was imposed, noting that disposable plastic waste accounted for 56% of all waste found in open public areas throughout the country. The ministry is reportedly “studying” the decision to reverse the tax.
Greenpeace Israel has been more outspoken. A statement released in Hebrew last week noted that “the average Israeli consumes five times more disposables per year than European counterparts.”
“The abolition of the disposable tax will exacerbate the waste crisis in Israel and lead to damage to nature, animals and public health – damage that we will all pay for. The new government must promote solutions and reward the Israeli public for [reducing] its severe addiction to polluting single-use plastic,” asserted the statement.
Smotrich’s decision was made on behalf of the more than one million ultra-Orthodox Jewish citizens in Israel, whose religious customs usually exempt them from the labor market and military service. Israeli NGO Latet estimates that 2,627,000 Israelis live in poverty, which amounts to nearly 27.8% of the country’s population.
This situation has affected a heavy burden on Israel’s economy and sent poverty rates up in many areas of the country. Moreover, The Times of Israel reports that Israel’s current population of 9.2 million is expected to grow by 70% to nearly 16 million by 2050. Of those 16 million, about a quarter, or 3.8 million, are projected by Israel’s National Economic Council to be ultra-Orthodox.
Fighting poverty and pollution
According to Greenpeace, Israel is flooded with plastic and has the highest consumption of disposables per capita on earth. However, the organization says viable solutions to poverty and pollution exist and that the two are not mutually exclusive.
“We must march toward a non-disposable future. Already today, there are alternatives to polluting plastic. A real contribution to the country would be the promotion of economic mechanisms, based on solutions of use and refilling,” reads a Greenpeace statement.
“These solutions are already implemented in many countries in the world, and can gradually take the place of the disposable in a convenient, healthy and cheap way. Subsidizing dishwashers for low-income families is just one of many solutions that may make the tax a very effective tool for reducing pollution.”
The facts surrounding the harms of plastic pollution are indisputable, Greenpeace claims, “which is why it is so unfortunate that this issue has become populist and polarizing.” A study by Tel Aviv University and the Mediterranean Sea Research Center of Israel last year found over 2 tons of microplastics polluting the Israeli coastline.
“The values of preserving nature and health are basic Jewish values, embedded already in the story of creation with the imperative to ‘serve and preserve,’” asserts Greenpeace.
“We call on the minister of finance, the minister of environmental protection and all members of the Knesset to rise above the narrow political considerations, internalize the heavy prices we pay for plastic consumption and, instead of abolishing the tax, promote holistic solutions.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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