Japan Today
A woman carrying plastic bags walks out fof a fruit store in Tokyo. Image: REUTERS file

Japan to ban free plastic bags at stores to fight marine pollution


The requested article has expired, and is no longer available. Any related articles, and user comments are shown below.


©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

There are other options than these plastic bags, and even if they cost a bit more, supermarkets and convenience stores should be investing in them!

Plastic bags can be mass produced from limestone and other natural products, and are in fact proven to be 100% biodegradable, yet they are quite a bit more expensive than what is available now.

However if the government is serious about decreasing the use of plastic, stores COULD go this route and pass the cost on to the customers who need a "plastic" bag!

11 ( +14 / -3 )

The real problem is people! Ban the disposal of plastic via any means other than trash bins, and you'll be halfway to educating people to using common sense!

4 ( +9 / -5 )

How about they ban the ridiculous 'city garbage bag' for burnable and non-burnable trash while they're at it.

I've never seen anything more Japanese then putting plastic bags (super market, conbini, etc) full of garbage into ANOTHER plastic bag (city) for trash day.

What a racket that is too.

17 ( +22 / -5 )

The headline says “ban” and the article reads “charge for”.

Those are not the same, but should help en mass to just put things in your bag instead of receiving a plastic bag

15 ( +17 / -2 )

How about all the plastic bags that the supermarket provides for people to put their already wrapped food into. I often see customers putting wrapped fish or meat into another plastic bag. Or worse vegetables. There is so much plastic waste here in japan, and people don't even think twice about it. A few days ago I went to the supermarket, bought a few things and asked for tape to show I paid for the items. The cashier thought I was insane.

11 ( +16 / -5 )

If people still aren’t taking an “eco” bag to the store, there’s something wrong with them, oh, yes, I remember: Selfish human behaviour needs FORCE to be changed, science, facts, requests don’t work on the vast majority. Also, ban the individual bags that cashiers put each separate meat, dairy and frozen product into, it’s insane to do that. STOP IT.

8 ( +13 / -5 )

Yeah this is long over due. Quite surprised that the US consumes more plastic per capita than Japan... perhaps something else skewing that stat... a bit unbelievable. But in terms of that plastic bag to wrap individual items... I would agree it’s unnecessary except for meat items. From the perspective of sanitation and keeping meats absolutely separate from fresh items like vegetables that may get eaten raw.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Does this include convenience stores? If not, then it is entirely toothless.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Better late than never. Bangaldesh was the first country to ban plastic bags. Japan should be bolder to catch up - follow Europe and UK and ban other single use plastic items - straws etc.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I hope this is a genuine effort to clean up the planet and not just PR for the run up to the 2020 Olympics.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

The cloth or polyurethane 'eco' bags aren't any help to the environment either and may in fact be worse. There ought to be systems in place for the recycling or reusing plastic bags and huge consumer education programs. If it can be done for natural disasters, it surely should be done for this unnatural disaster of another order.

There's an engineer in Japan who has developed a system of creating oil from discarded plastic. Why hasn't that been promoted and caught on?

Why aren't governments working together globally to fish and dredge the plastic already in the oceans?

There is much that could be done. However, there's much eco-posing by the banning of things like drinking straws and plastic bags that stands in the way of the real issues.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

as the country combats marine pollution by plastic waste.

It's nice to lesser use of plastic but for Japan main reason is not to combats marine pollution, it's more because Chinese already reject plastic waste from Japan.


14 ( +17 / -3 )

Charging for the bag does not solve the problem.  Last year NZ banned all single use bags.  6 months later everyone knows to take their own bag to the shops. A few years back one of the Indian states banned plastic bags because they were clogging up the sewage system.  When I was child in UK if my mother sent me to the shops to pick up a few things you always took the "shopping" bag.  The greengrocer would tip the veges straight into your bag or put them in a brown paper bag.  The butcher would wrap your sausages and mince in white paper and hand it to you,  Nobody used plastic bags because they were not needed.  We can return to that simpler and more environmentally system by simply banning the production of single use plastic bags.

And then we can start dealing with that scourge known as the PET bottle.

21 ( +23 / -2 )

to introduce a new law banning the practice of providing single-use plastic bags for free, while leaving the price of a plastic bag up to the retailers

In other countries this levy put into plastic bags is used to support charities and/or environmental groups. I can see Japanese retailers using it as a way to squeeze a few more yen out of customers. The Hard Off recycle stores are already charging ¥5 per bag. Most supermarkets are charging ¥2 per bag. I’m sure that after this legislation goes through we will see some retailers charging ¥20 or ¥30 for a plastic bag. Don’t get me wrong. It is a great initiative to cut down on single use plastics bags, but I fear it will be used as a cash grab for unscrupulous Japanese retailers.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

If Japan really wanted to make an impact, they would create a standard that wouldn't allow companies to make products so easily throw-awayable. Some of you out there may not realize products are intentionally designed to break in say a one, two, or five-year period. Similar products designed back in the 1960s would last 20 or 30 years. Electric fans are a good example of this. They are made so cheaply today and end up on the garbage heap in no time.

Japanese Government, you're not really doing anything other than creating a false sense of accomplishment. You pull the strings and so have the means to make real policy change, but instead you choose to make as this article points out symbolic change.

That pretty much sums up what it is you do for you!

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Over 8 million tons of plastic waste is estimated to flow into the oceans every year

How does it end uo in the ocean?

3 ( +9 / -6 )

A good move. Single use plastic is wasteful and burning it produces dioxins and other nastiness. If the focus of this campaign is "plastic gets in the ocean", I hope they also move onto other forms of pollution. Fishing-related junk and plastic bottles are what I see on Japanese beaches, as it happens more commonly than plastic bags. PET bottles are a big culprit, but so are bottles for various things like fabric softener.

We love Costco, but there is a lot of plastic in that store. Baked goods come on huge bulky trays made of thick plastic and household goods like light bulbs come encased in it. If that is typical for the US, I can imagine them using more than Japan.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

@Philly canvas eco bags provide genuine sustainability.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Reusable bags, even better if sourced from your bag collection -- which we all have --, are a great way to reduce plastic. Bag up and reuse!

7 ( +8 / -1 )

"The proportion of plastic bags among plastic waste is not big

The proportion is NOT the point. Plastic waste is STILL an issue here

, but charging would be symbolic"

It's just symbolic. Retailers can decide the price too, again this ban means nothing.

In indonesia a company is selling plastic made from cassava that can be dissolved in water. Japan is running massively behind, but what can you expect from this faxing country.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Plastic wastes arriving at Japan's coast are coming from other countries, not from Japan.

-17 ( +4 / -21 )

When I arrived in Japan I was shocked to see how much plastic is used for packaging and wrapping. At the grocery store items already wrapped in plastic are bagged a second time. What a waste. And, with all the plastic that shows up in the ocean I don't understand why a nation like Japan, surrounded by the sea, continues this practice. To our part we bring our own bags and a basket to the grocery store and tell them not to second bag anything unless it's leaking. Yes, the stores all charge for bags but 2 Yen is not enough. It would be much better if the stores charged a deposit for plastic bags and had to refund it upon their return. My hometown (in the US) doesn't allow plastic bags to be thrown away in the municipal trash. The stores all use paper now.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Ecology, the environment and what we can do to maintain it are vital subjects and should be in the school curriculum in place of some of the useless inapplicable data kids are given to memorise.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Plastic bags? What about all the one use plastics that is produce by purchasing coffee ant the conbini? Plastic stirrer, lid, cream container, straw plus wrapper.

Lawsons actually make the coffee for you and rather than use a reusable stirrer they use a plastic one once and throw it out, mind boggling, I questioned a staff member at my local conbini but she was just indifferent about the issue.

I always say I don't need a lid and I'll put the cream in as the coffee pours so I don't need to stir it, this is just one simple process in consumption that produces such unnecessary plastic waste. Don't get me started on bentos and package.

there needs to be a clean up Japan day so that they can actually fathom the serious one use plastic pollution problem in Japan, they are good at cleaning stadium after soccer in a host country but not their own.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

tinawatanabe: "Plastic wastes arriving at Japan's coast are coming from other countries, not from Japan"

You clearly Don't know how tides work. Japan is one of the biggest ocean polluters in the world, including nuclear waste. Or, are you going to say increased nuclear materials in the shores off Japan are from other countries, too? Whenever there is a strong rain storm, the river outside my apartment becomes a garbage bin of plastic bottles and bags flowing down it, not to mention the télévisions and other electronics people would rather toss in the river than pay to dispose of.

Charge 1000 yen per bag, please. This Morning I got a take out coffee at 7/11 and they tried to put it in a plastic bag. I said no thanks, they threw the plastic bag away... in a plastic bag.

9 ( +14 / -5 )

Here is some specific information about different types of packaging and the problems with them, some of which are non-obvious.


3 ( +4 / -1 )

This is dumb because it's not even Japan dumping plastic in the ocean. It's other countries


Its the same thing with reducing carbon admissions for "climate change". China spews dirty coal into the air; we get all this pm2.5 cancer causing pollution but no one talks about it.

Instead of banning bags Japan needs to point the finger at China more. And start doing some diplomacy to get China to put some regulations on the pollution. It's not fair.

-9 ( +4 / -13 )

Its just another scam to make more money. Cheapos

-8 ( +4 / -12 )

I asked a simple question how the plastics end up in the ocean and get thumbs down.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

I grew up and spent most of my adult life in San Francisco, California where we recycle, compost and outright ban plastic bags. Are these all good things? Maybe. Do they change the fact that we live and are participants in a mass consumption system and pollute mass amounts daily? Nope.

Plastic straws are the next ban in San Francisco? Funny, from a city that has helped fill the world's landfills with old computers, laptops, cellphones. Yep, it's the straws?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Over 8 million tons of plastic waste is estimated to flow into the oceans every year and cause microplastics pollution, in which tiny pieces of degraded plastics absorb harmful chemicals and accumulate inside fish, birds and other animals as they make their way up the food chain.

Five countries: China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines dump more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the combined world. There is simply no solution to this problem without getting these countries to change their practices.

At a minimum those countries should be leading the cleanup efforts instead of leading the dumping efforts.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

BTW, my most natural sounding Japanese is, 袋はいらないです。

I repeat this phrase hundreds of times a month.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

BelrickToday 06:53 am JSTThe real problem is people! Ban the disposal of plastic via any means other than trash bins, and you'll be halfway to educating people to using common sense!

In Canadian cities you will find very little litter, not even cig butts. Urban pollution is not a major problem there, even the metros of Toronto and Montreal are clean (if noisy). Rubbish disposal bins and butt kits are in specific places and utilized.

drluciferToday 09:22 am JSTI asked a simple question how the plastics end up in the ocean and get thumbs down.

When Japan had that horrible quake and tsunami in 2010, garbage from there spread to the US West Coast shore. Getting rid of those plastic bags will be a huge benefit for all of us. Or at least a start. Now I wish the US would follow suit.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

In addition, it will consider whether to expand the targeted retailers to small- and medium-sized business operators 

If they are really serious it should be applicable to all retailers small and big and even street hawkers.

Just like small businessed are allowed to collect consumption tax and not obliged to pay to the government.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I think the biggest regular Japanese source of plastic in the ocean is fishing boats. Japanese beaches are strewn with fishing gear. Floats, nets, polystyrene boxes, etc.

The tsunami also swept a vast amount of plastic into the ocean.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

[ On Tuesday, Harada said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told him the measure is following the right direction and urged him to "thoroughly listen to the opinions of the people." ]

This sentiment to ban / charge for plastic bags was not the opinion of most Japanese consumers, and Shinzo / the Japanese gov't clearly know that it's more about the 2020 Olympics and what images the world sees when it visits Japan.

Yet Shinzo and co. try to turn this into a "we must listen to the people" moment, suddenly having instant amnesia about the numerous laws that were rammed through without heeding public protests...which is more polluting, the plastic, or the garbage these sleazebags spew into the media and public domain?

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Five or ten years overdue.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The stores think they're ding all customers a favour by dishing out as much plastic as possible. It's not. It encourages the lazier customers. As usual, Japan is one of the last countries to think ahead. It astounds me the number of people (especially the salariman) who just can't be bothered to bring their own bags, even if it is an old plastic bag. I've reused my old plastic bags hundreds of times each, and when it's of no more use, I'll use it to throw garbage away. But, some cities, insist you buy a special plastic bag. Good grief.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I'm glad to hear this. A lot of supermarkets are already doing this, but convenience stores haven't been and they are the worst culprits in this, so I'm very happy they are included in the regulation.

The next step is to target producers of food and other goods for excessive packaging, which is a way bigger component of plastic waste here.

Its insane - buy a bag of Japanese cookies for example and you've got the bag, a useless plastic tray, and a dozen smaller bags for each individual cookie. Multiply that by half the products in a supermarket and its no wonder this country is the second worst in the world for plastic waste.

Buy a bag of cookies made by a foreign company (like OREOs) and its just one outer bag and that is it. Because that is all you need.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Far too little too late.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Just stop giving out plastic bags. In MIL's local Maruai they gave us a handful of bags for a little shopping - we counted 8 bags and then gave them back - he took our own. Utterly wasteful.

In the the UK you have to take your own bags, that includes for non food shopping, unless the shop gives you a paper bag. Supermarkets can sell you a bag, but it isn't one of those flimsy plastic bags, it's usually a much thicker and sturdier 'bag for life' which they will swap for another if it breaks. They are quite expensive and buying one for every shop will add up, so you quickly get into the habit of carrying your own bag. It's not difficult. Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds will soon be banned, other single use plastics will be banned in the near future. Waitrose has started to sell unpackaged foods, you bring your own containers, this needs to expand. The world uses too much plastic due to laziness.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

tinawatanabe - Plastic wastes arriving at Japan's coast are coming from other countries, not from Japan.

Lol! Yes, of course they are darling! Bwahahaha! I guess you’ve never been to a beach in Chiba or ibaraki and seen just how much household and industrial waste is either washed up or dumped on the beaches. And, they all have Japanese writing on them.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Over 8 million tons of plastic waste is estimated to flow into the oceans every year 

This is very bad. But I don't see that messing with pricing of supermarkets and combinis is really going to help.

Japan plans to make it mandatory to charge for plastic shopping bags at supermarkets, convenience stores, drugstores and department stores as the country combats marine pollution by plastic waste.

Who actually believes that all those businesses have been handing out plastic shopping bags for "free", so far?

I have little doubt that those costs of plastic bags are factored in to overall pricing already, just like various other costs of doing business. Indeed, many supermarkets already charge for plastic bags or offer discounts for those who don't require them.

"The proportion of plastic bags among plastic waste is not big, but charging would be symbolic" of Japan's efforts to reduce such waste, said Harada.

More harassment of business, on top of the crazy consumption tax multiple-rate introduction. All just to be symbolic.

The ministry also intends to request retailers to use revenues from charging for the bags for environmental measures 

Good luck with that request.

In addition, it will consider whether to expand the targeted retailers to small- and medium-sized business operators and to exclude biodegradable plastic bags.

This is Japanese bureaucracy! Here come to loopholes and higher compliance costs!

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

This is great news for the stores! They can make more money!

Aeon's been charging 5 yen for bags for some time now.

it's kinda like United Airlines or American Airlines or Delta Airlines charging for a beer.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Just for the people downvoting my last comment, Ocean Cleanup say that 46% of the total mass of the Pacific Garbage Patch is fishing nets. Not even fishing gear, just fishing nets!


Here's a further quote about fishing gear as a whole and the effect of the tsunami

A comprehensive new study by Slat’s team of scientists, published in Scientific Reports Thursday, concluded that the 79,000 tons was four to 16 times larger than has been previously estimated for the patch. The study also found that fishing nets account for 46 percent of the trash, with the majority of the rest composed of other fishing industry gear, including ropes, oyster spacers, eel traps, crates, and baskets. Scientists estimate that 20 percent of the debris is from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.


If Japan wants to be serious about ocean pollution, it should focus on fishermen, not only the ordinary consumer. I have never heard fishing gear being mentioned as a pollutant on Japanese tv. The official term for it is "abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear" (ALDFG). It is much more likely to kill marine life than other forms of plastic.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Really? What a bout o-bentos and any possible product with three or four plastic containers for each single item? Those are not polluting the seas? Drugstores soap bottles... Vending machines (good part of which without recycling bins aside). Kobeya wrappings... each damn item one plastic bag, being only bread (which usually goes into paper)...?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The ministry expects the retailers to charge between several yen to 10 yen per bag. Harada said the price should be effective in reining in the use of plastic bags.

Where's the money going?  How can my local Seiyu turn over the money collected from plastic bags to what company, and what is this company going to do to ensure that somehow pollution is curbed, when there are laws against littering?  This is simply a money grab.  It all adds up, 10 yen multiplied by thousands a day and you get the picture. 

Should there be less pollution, sure.  But charging for a plastic bag is not going to do it.  As some mentioned here, cities like San Francisco ban plastic bags, yet pass out free hypo needles to the addicts lining the streets and they leave them all over the place.  How is that saving the planet?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

smithinjapanToday  09:10 am JST

tinawatanabe: "Plastic wastes arriving at Japan's coast are coming from other countries, not from Japan"

You clearly Don't know how tides work. Japan is one of the biggest ocean polluters in the world, including nuclear waste. Or, are you going to say increased nuclear materials in the shores off Japan are from other countries, too? Whenever there is a strong rain storm, the river outside my apartment becomes a garbage bin of plastic bottles and bags flowing down it, not to mention the télévisions and other electronics people would rather toss in the river than pay to dispose of.

Someone is again lecturing without knowing the issues of drifted wastes around Japan coasts and how Kuroshio current or Tsushima current work. Tina probably meant those plastic wastes with Hanguel or Chinese characters on, which are not Japanese wastes. Japan officially complained to those 2 countries.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

As much as I like the idea, what is going to be used in its place? Paper bags?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Plans to..... yeah like when ? Probably another 5 years in the planning. And people will still just pay the extra 3 yen for the plastic bag every time i reckon so none of this is going to make much difference here. Perhaps if they hike it up to 10yen people might think twice. But at least they will have to ask for it every time without being given the option again actually making people think about it.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Bring your bag and use only ecobags.

I throw the bags from my supermarket in France into my recycling box with all organic waste, and indeed disappear nicely.

I always have been outraged to see plastic use for nothing in Japan (the green grass in bento box, yes !)

Careful, it shall not be detrimental to the maintaining of sanitary conditions, because of Japanese mushiatsui weather.

Next world figth : the single use plastic PET bottles !

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Here's the bring your own container experiment at a supermarket in the UK. Note prices are about 15% cheaper too. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/04/packaging-free-trial-waitrose-hits-the-ground-running I can't see why other shops cannot do this.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Congrats, you'll achieve nothing. Since you still offering bags at a charge, people will still buy them, thus they will still need to be made. And since places still offer plastic straws, forks/spoons, and other items - it's a massive waste of time.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Being forced to buy a plastic bag rather than getting it for free changes nothing. Plastic is still being used and will still find its way into the marine system.

They need to go "old school" with modern technology. Reinforced paper bags made with bamboo or regrowth forests that both employ people to grow and cut and manufacture and are completely biodegradable.

And the paper bags should be free. You want people to buy your products but don't give them a way to take the product home. That will encourage people to go to stores that DO give paper bags.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

How about instead of charging for them, just stop offering them? BYOB. Bring Your Own Bag☺

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This has had a big impact in other markets. For example when the charge was introduced in the UK, bag usage dropped by 85%. Charging is compulsory and the revenue is put to use by environmental groups. It’s a start.

The issue of wrapping meat and fish products is an important one as this helps prevent cross contamination. Banning use of plastic bags for this would require an alternative, such as paper, to be used. Unfortunately there are not yet sufficient supplies of sustainable and recycled paper to meet demand.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Arturo: "Congrats, you'll achieve nothing. Since you still offering bags at a charge, people will still buy them, thus they will still need to be made."

Obviously not much on economics, either. The added cost will cause some people to stop buying and carry their own instead. That will reduce demand.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Japan is always taking care of silly small points without taking care of the big issues. Do anyone think that anything will be different ???.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Japan has to be one of the biggest contributors to non recyclable waste. There is a plastic wrap then a small clear bag to cover that, then that goes inside another bag...just insane how much ridiculous waste is produced here. Every single item is wrapped, then that is all wrapped again and again.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Stop the stores from over-packaging

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There is a plastic wrap

For wrapping item by item, especially fresh meat and fresh fish and cooked dishes

then a small clear bag to cover that,

To avoid drips of those, or put small vegetables all together in

then that goes inside another bag...

to hold and take all of those back home

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

@ listenthetruth and others

I've been on holiday and am now catching up with this thread. Perhaps everyone has moved on. Nowever, here is further food for thought for anyone who wishes to have a deeper understanding of a complex problem. Simplistic solutions to the plastic problem won't solve anything.


1 ( +1 / -0 )

BYO bags might work in grocery stores and supermarkets, but what about convenience stores?? Do you bring your own bags to a convenience store?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The problem with the "just bring your own bags" argument is that it's infinitely easier for people who drive cars to the store to keep a few bags in their cars than it is for pedestrians who drop in at the store on their way back from work to keep a crinkly plastic bag in their pockets all the time. Why are we making it easier to shop by automobile and harder if you're walking?

And nobody is ever talking about charging for parking, which is often provided for free, takes up a ton of land, and causes massive amounts of dioxins to be spewed into the air.

As someone with impaired eyesight who will never be able to benefit from car-centric shopping, I resent the favoritism toward cars and the ignorance of the costs they impose on the public. I'd gladly pay for a bag if the car people have to pay for their parking spaces!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It should be a mandatory rule through out the world. WTO and WHO should do something strictly to stop single time use plastic. Japan is very bold country in taking action against these serious issues.

Inspiration to all over the world.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The usual household process here in Japan is to put the daily garbage into a plastic bag and that goes into the required 45-liter (or larger) plastic bag for bi-weekly trash pickup. If plastic bags are banned, how is anyone to throw their trash away?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I second a lot of comments regarding waste from Korea-all along the Japan sea coast we can find all types of waste from plastic to metal aerosol cannisters.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you want my business, offer free plastic bags.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This should of been done long ago. Many progressive polices I dont agree with but waste that wont degrade over thousands of years is absurd.

If you look at all the items you buy, from cleaning supplies to food, drinks, packaging, its all plastic x hundreds of times a year x millions of people. True, much of it is incinerated but allot still makes it back to the environment.

The day will probably come where sauces, coffee, drinks, even cleaning supplies will be dispensed from machines into biodegradable containers. Before there was plastic people did without it. Its not only the mfg fault, its the consumer who wants it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites