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Plastic waste, a leading problem in Israel

Tel Aviv beaches marked as most polluted in the Mediterranean

Solid waste treatment facility "Arrow Ecology" at the foot of the Hiriya landfill, near Tel Aviv. On Nov 11, 2008. Photo by Chen Leopold/flash90.

Plastic can be found everywhere in Israel – in homes and stores, and in the sea and on beaches. It’s a part of the culture.

Israelis spend over $500 million annually on plasticware. Its use is especially common within the ultra-Orthodox community, in part because of the extra precautions which need to be taken to ensure their observation of kashrut, or “keeping kosher.” For their sake, Israel’s new finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, has promised to make single-use plastic cheaper. 

Environmental studies routinely place Israel as among the world’s leaders in per capita use of disposable plastic – nearly five times more per person than European Union residents.

In late 2021, the Israeli government introduced a tax on single-use plasticware in an attempt to drive down the country’s plastic waste, successfully reducing the use of plasticware, indicated by an 18% reduction in plastic waste found on the beaches alone. 

Yet Pnina Pfeuffer, CEO of the organization The New Haredim, said the tax was directed toward, and was especially onerous for, the ultra-Orthodox population.

This population “uses disposable plastic more than other sectors. They have bigger families, more Shabbat meals, celebrate more occasions, so they use a lot of disposable items,” Pfeuffer said – three times more than the population at large, according to a government report.

The report noted that ultra-Orthodox families are generally poor, averaging nine family members, and have at least three festive meals on the weekly Shabbat, which often include the entire family plus guests. If a meal averages three courses, these special days amount to a use of about 100 plates – not including glasses, silverware and serving platters.

Environmentalists are concerned that the lifting of the tax will cause another jump in plasticware use, while scientists have found that the widespread use of disposable plastic is detrimental to our health, since our bodies absorb the microparticles into which the plastic degrades. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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