Retail shops across Japan from convenience stores to supermarkets are now required to charge their customers at least one yen (around one US cent) for plastic bags, a new rule that brings the country in line with other major economies and that seeks to reduce plastic waste generated in the country.
However, plastic shopping bags only account for 2% of all the plastic waste produced in the country, which means further actions will have to be taken. The governments hopes that the introduction of the fee will encourage customers to change their habits on a wider scale, reducing their plastic footprint.
Japan produces more plastic packaging waste per capita than any nation apart from the United States, according to the United Nations. Amid criticism from environmental organizations, with the new move the country vows to “curb excessive use of plastic and think about how to use it wisely”, according to a policy document.
The new rule seems to be having some effect, with one shopper making sure she brought her own bag. “There are lots of issues now, like the environment and global warming. Each of us needs to be more aware of these issues, and that is why I am carrying my own shopping bag,” Yoshimi Soeda told AFP outside a Tokyo store.
To introduce the fees, the government last December revised ordinances related to the law on containers and packaging recycling. Stores have also been handing out complimentary reusable shopping bags in advance to the fees to encourage shoppers to use them.
The Environment Ministry has launched a campaign to raise the proportion of shoppers who do not seek plastic bags at stores to 60% by the end of this year from 30% in March this year. Still, as much as some nine million tons of plastic waste are produced in Japan in a year, with plastic being a strong element of the country’s consumption culture.
Japan has a solid waste management system, and the government says more than 80% of the plastic waste produced in the country is recycled. But much of that recycling actually involves simply incinerating plastic, often to produce energy, a process that generates carbon dioxide and contributes to climate change.
Last year, the government announced a goal of reducing plastic waste by 25% by 2030. Plastic bottles in particular are a concern, as more than 22 billion are produced every year, according to the Council for PET Bottle Recycling. Now 85% of those bottles are recycled but the goal is to reach 100% by 2030.
The use of plastics is among the top concerns for Japanese citizens, according to a government survey, which showed that 89% of the respondents were concerned with the issue. More than half said they would be willing to use an eco-friendly alternative, replacing plastic straws and cutlery.