Israel pledges to axe single-use plastic tax as environmentalists decry violation of ‘basic Jewish values’

ISRAEL – The newly formed government of Israel has pledged to axe the country’s tax on single-use plastics to appease low-income ultra-Orthodox communities who cannot afford the dishwashing equipment needed to make reusable packaging viable.

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.

According to Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, there has been 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.

The decision comes at a time when researchers are warning plastic pollution has become a major source of scourge on the Israeli coastline

A study by the Tel Aviv University and the Mediterranean Sea Research Center of Israel last year found over 2 tonnes of microplastics polluting the Israeli coastline.

In addition, Greenpeace Israel in a statement noted that “the average Israeli consumes five times more disposables per year than European counterparts.”

The organization warns that the abolition of the disposable tax will exacerbate the waste crisis in Israel and lead to damage to nature, animals and public health.

“The new government must promote solutions and reward the Israeli public for reducing its severe addiction to polluting single-use plastic,” added Greenpeace in a 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.

In addition, 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.

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