The disposable plastic bags that the Japanese consume regularly in stores cost money starting this Wednesday, in a radical turn in the customs of a country addicted to packaging with this material.
Even fruits and vegetables are often surrounded in shops by various layers of plastic before finally ending up in a plastic bag to transport them, a habit that the Japanese government is now trying to change through this initiative.
The public measure requires retailers to pay a fee for the distribution of this material, from small stores spread across the country to large supermarkets.
For example, the top three convenience store chains, which are open 24 hours, have decided to charge customers between three and five yen for each bag, equivalent to just under three to five cents.
The Seven-Eleven, FamilyMart and Lawson chains thus modify their distribution policy, while the Japanese Government wants to promote the free distribution of reusable, biodegradable or manufactured bags with a considerable percentage of biomass.
Other retailers, such as department stores or fast food chains, have decided to change the distribution of plastic among their customers to that of bags made of paper or substitute materials derived from biomass.
PAY, REJECT, OR PROHIBIT
The objective of this measure is to reduce the contamination that these residues cause in ecosystems such as marine, although the bags only account for about 2% of the plastic waste in Japan.
Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi has invited to think about “the problem of plastic waste” and to change to turn Japan into a society “in which it is common to reject bags” of this material, according to statements collected by the NHK public network.
The initiative is part of a series of policies adopted by the Japanese government last year, after the Group of 20, which held its 2019 summit in the Japanese city of Osaka, alerted strongly to this problem and its impact on oceans.
Estimates from international organizations place around 8 million tons of plastic waste worldwide that is not recycled or used and that ends up in the oceans, generating a great contamination of microplastics.
Despite decisions like today, Japan lags behind in the practice of charging for plastic bags, something that has already been applied in nations such as China, France or the United Kingdom, or in megapolis such as New York.
For environmental organizations like Greenpeace, this measure is not enough and is behind the debates in other nations on reducing this type of waste.
“The discussions in the main countries are about prohibiting the use of plastic bags, not about paying for them,” said Greenpeace Japan’s head of plastics, Hiromasa Otate.
TOO MUCH GARBAGE TO PROCESS
According to UN data, Japan is the second largest producer of plastic waste per person in the world after the United States and, according to the annual report of the National Institute of Plastic Management, during 2018 generated a total of 8.9 million tons of residues of this material.
Japan has a developed separation and recycling system, but in practice it only reuses a small part of the discarded plastic.
Since China decided to stop importing this type of garbage in late 2017, the Japanese government has adopted new regulations to contain the excessive use of plastic and has used the export of its waste to Thailand and Vietnam as alternatives.
The Japanese Executive then developed a plan to cut by 25 percent the emission of non-recyclable waste of this material by 2030, which includes measures such as the one that is applied as of this Wednesday.