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Israel green groups slam scrapping of tax on disposable tableware

A cleaner collects plastic garbage at a Tel Aviv beach
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Israeli environmental groups slammed a government move Sunday to scrap a tax on single-use tableware that aimed to reduce pollution from disposable plastic products.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's month-old government abolished the tax, arguing it had fuelled Israel's cost-of-living crisis and impacted especially ultra-Orthodox communities.

The decision was labelled "shameful" by environmental group Zalul which works to protect Israel's seas and rivers from threats including pollution with garbage and harmful microplastics.

"The decision is trying to take us backwards as the world is moving in the direction of reducing the use of disposables," its chief executive Mor Gilboa told AFP.

The tax, introduced by the previous government under centrist premier Yair Lapid, from late 2021 imposed an 11 shekel ($3.20) tax per kilogramme of plastic cups, plates and other tableware.

The tax was 3.3 shekels per kilo of disposable paper tableware containing plastic.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's office announced the scrapping of the tax Sunday, in line with an election pledge.

"We promised -- and kept our word," he said in a statement. "The battle against the cost of living is shared by all."

Aryeh Deri, chairman of the Shas party which represents ultra-Orthodox Jews -- many of whom use disposables to accommodate large family gatherings -- applauded the decision.

He condemned the tax as a "symbol of the deliberate damage to the ultra-Orthodox population".

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, on the left, shakes the hand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on January 25, 2023

Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman said she voted against the decision, noting the tax had cut purchases of plastic tableware by nearly 40 percent.

Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israels Association of Public Health Physicians, said the government's decision had no "justification".

"The government wants to give plastic manufacturers 30,000,000 shekels a year from our pocket, at the expense of the public's health and the environment," he wrote on Twitter.

Before the tax was imposed, Israelis on average used 7.5 kilogrammes of disposable tableware a year, compared to 1.5 kilos in the European Union, according to the Knesset's research department.

Ultra-Orthodox families used disposables three times more than the general Jewish Israeli population, according to the Knesset study.

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