Why I Don’t Support Israel’s Plastic Bag Ban

Two days ago, the Israeli government passed a bill, requiring stores to charge the consumer for each plastic bag they use instead of the stores covering the cost.

People assume that someone like myself, who encourages recycling, upcycling, reducing waste, and makes my living teaching people green things like foraging, would obviously support such a law, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I think it is an inane and ridiculous law, which makes the Israeli government look like it is helping the environment, but doesn’t actually fix anything, and just hurts the consumer.

Why?

Well, to start off with — while it’s meant to reduce the amount of plastic being used, in Austin, TX, where such a law has been in place for a while already, they’ve discovered that it actually hurts the environment more. So, while it is “supposed” to help the environment, such a law does no such thing.

Secondly, in addition to not even helping the environment, it hurts the consumer in many ways. I’ve compiled a list of ways that I, and others, currently reuse grocery shopping bags. Having to pay for shopping bags won’t eliminate the need for bags in all these cases, so all that will happen is a) the consumer will pay for these bags and will use just as many or b) the consumer will purchase other plastic alternatives, such as freezer bags, plastic wrap, garbage bags, to replace these bags — replacing one plastic with another, and not actually reducing plastic waste whatsoever.

Here’s how I and others reuse plastic shopping bags, which won’t go away just because we’re being charged for them:
1) To line my garbage cans, so I can tie my garbage shut so the wind doesn’t blow it out of the dumpster
2) To double-wrap my kedushat shviit waste (holy produce from Shmita) and bread (both forbidden from being thrown into the trash unless double wrapped) before throwing them out
3) Instead of plastic wrap to cover things in the fridge, in the freezer, or on the counter (such as rising bread)
4) Stuffed in my pockets to use for spontaneous foraging adventures
5) Stuffed in my pocketbook to use as barf bags on buses for myself (when pregnant) or my kids
6) To wrap wet things that need to be transported home, such as clothes in which my kids had accidents
7) To double-bag containers that may not be so spill-proof, so other things I am carrying in my backpack don’t get ruined.
8) To transport gluten items along with my gluten free things, each in separate bags (or double-bagged) so there isn’t cross-contamination
9) To wrap stinky diapers that need to be tossed
10) To store out-of-season clothes
11) As a way of transporting things on trips, so I don’t need to shlep a big empty bag on the return trip
12) To collect bottles/cans for recycling that we find on the street/in the park
13) To pick up dog poo in order to dispose of it

And of course, I use them on my shopping trips, to bring home my groceries. As someone who lives with no car, I carry enough things in my backpack/pocketbook when traveling on buses — I can’t carry enough reusable shopping bags with me on my person whenever I leave, just in case I decide to pick up groceries. (If I had a car, I could store bags in the trunk, but I have much more limited space when traveling by bus or foot.)

I actually strongly dislike reusable shopping bags — I can’t tie them closed well, so the groceries that I put in them end up spreading all over the baggage compartment of the bus when I try to do my shopping in them. They actually break quickly, I’ve found, so I need to continuously purchase new ones. And they are just too large, which makes them very heavy to carry, and doesn’t allow you to sort out your groceries within them, unless you use the plastic shopping bags inside your reusable shopping bags, which completely misses the point.

If the Israeli government actually cared about the environment, instead of just paying lip service to caring about it, here are some suggestions I came up with that would help the environment much more than banning free distribution of plastic bags:

1) Make recycling easier, by making there be places to deposit recycling everywhere — people aren’t going to shlep 10-15 minutes up a hill to recycle bottles if the dumpster is 50 feet from their house

2) Have more varieties of recycling options available — growing up, we were able to recycle: cardboard, paper, newspaper, cans, soda cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles, many plastic containers, aluminum foil, and many other things: now I cant keep track of which things need to be recycled where and which things can’t even be recycled at all, so unless its something I can get money for in terms of pikadon, I don’t even bother recycling. Apparently, locally, there are more options in terms of recycling that I am aware of, but it is really confusing and unclear — and if I’m unaware of what can be recycled and how, I’m sure many others are in the same boat. And the recycling places that are available get filled up very quickly, because they are so small and not emptied frequently enough, that even if I’d want to put my recycling in there, there usually isn’t any room.

3) Have communal compost heaps/compost collection points- everywhere! Not everyone has a yard where they can compost, and if organic waste weren’t tossed in the garbage, that would eliminate a large amount of the landfill space, AND it would result in wonderful dirt which then can be used for growing vegetables and reducing the carbon imprint.

4) Make shopping bags biodegradable.

5) Subsidize the purchase of dishwashers, the way the government did with 5 star energy appliances to encourage their use, so that people without the energy to wash all the dishes don’t rely so much on disposables.

6) Encourage use of cloth diapers — raise awareness campaigns of how much money they save people to motivate them, require maons and other public institutions to accept kids in cloth diapers, and provide grants/subsidies to cover the cost of cloth diapers, to allow those that would be interested in doing so but are unable to afford the initial outlay would be able to cloth diaper. Make there be low-cost cloth diapers such as Econobum style sold in israel. Have cloth diaper washing services available everywhere.

7) Have awareness campaigns everywhere about reducing waste.

8) Encourage use of sug bet and otherwise “ugly” foods.

9) Offer perks/benefits for companies such as grocery stores/restaurants/other places to donate things they cant sell, and penalize them for causing excess waste. I’ve been told by Rami Levi workers, for example, that they are forbidden to give me or even sell me the plastic bins that their cheese gets delivered in — they are required to throw them in the trash. Same with chicken skins and scraps from the butcher — they are forbidden to give me or sell them to me — they have to chuck them in the trash

10) Penalize people for burning things that cause toxic and noxious fumes when burned, such as plastic, rubber, and other non natural items.

11) Have awareness campaign about how much garbage Israel produces, and the effect it has on the environment.

I do not plan on changing what I do in terms of shopping bags once I am charged for every bag I use, and I doubt anyone else will be changing their habits. All this new law does is get me annoyed and peeved at the government’s missing the forest for the trees, and making people like me¬†pay for it (literally).

About the Author
Ronit Peskin has made it her goal to increase Torah and increase love between Jews in Israel and around the world. She is the founder of WomenForTheWall.org, an organization created to preserve the traditional sanctity at the Western Wall. She comes from a Modern Orthodox background, has been in Dati Leumi, Chareidi, Chassidic, and non religious circles, and because of that, has a unique perspective on the goings-on in Israel.
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