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Plastic bag usage at Japanese stores down by 50%, but plastic bags sales through the roof

61 Comments
By SoraNews24

On July 1, the Japanese government enacted a ban on the practice of handing out free plastic bags by retail businesses. Instead, shops, convenience stores, and restaurants must charge extra for such a luxury. This is of course an effort to reduce plastic waste and encourage people to embrace the reusable-bag lifestyle instead.

Some chains like Yoshinoya have avoided change by using a more biodegradable material in their bags.

The good news is that it seemed to have had an immediate effect. Although some bemoaned the added wait times at the register and limitations on how much people can carry/buy, there certainly has been a significant reduction in customers using plastic bags within the first month alone. It seems that charging 3 to 5 yen per bag was just too rich for a lot of people’s blood.

At the three biggest convenience store chains, where bags were once given out more rapidly than anywhere else, plastic bag refusal rates have swelled to over three-quarters across the board. This is considerably higher than the 25 percent seen before the law came into effect.

The bad news is that on the household goods site Lohaco, orders for plastic shopping bags spiked last month, amounting to about a 300 percent increase for the same time last year. This would mean that rather than giving up plastic bags cold turkey, some people simply went in search of a better deal than 3 yen per bag.

The overwhelming reason to continue craving plastic bags is as a way to hold household garbage. Those smaller sized convenience store bags were especially convenient when it came to containing moister and smellier leftover waste products from dinner like vegetables trimmings and the inedible parts of fish.

Meanwhile, the larger bags gotten from supermarkets tended to be a useful size to hold the amount of overall garbage that accumulates in between garbage pickup, which occurs several times a week in Japan, often with different types of garbage getting picked up on different days. With many urban Japanese homes dealing with limited space, frequent bagging has been an important defense at keeping the sights and smells of daily waste at bay.

Without any alternatives, many people were at a loss with what to do with their garbage and weren’t quite ready to part with plastic bags just yet. This might sound petty, but in their defense, this is peak cockroach season and keeping certain kinds of garbage contained is an important line of defense against them.

This result has lead many to point the finger at the government for both inconveniencing their lives and failing to save the environment.

“It’s a meaningless policy that doesn’t help to reduce waste.”

“Yup, I’m one of those people. I bought some bags at the 100 yen shop.”

“This is all stupid.”

“Those bags are essential for garbage.”

“I just bought 100 bags. That policy didn’t amount to much.”

“I have no other choice.”

“So the people using eco-bags are also buying plastic bags in bulk…”

If anything, this all should be a wake-up call to any material producers out there that a very real and very huge demand for eco-friendly trash receptacles has suddenly sprung up.

Source: NHK News Web, Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Japan’s secret garbage problem–and what you can do to help

-- Uniqlo and GU announce they will now charge for shopping bags in a new, eco-friendly initiative

-- Kyoto’s newest anime mascot has a stinky name, is worried about garbage, and is a fairy

© SoraNews24

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

61 Comments
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“Those bags are essential for garbage.”

No they aren't essential at all. You just don't want to adapt.

-6 ( +24 / -30 )

Yes, I'm one of the people who do what is mentioned in the story. I bought 50 of the smallest size plastic garbage bags at Daiso and use them in the kitchen for scraps, peelings, etc, which I used to use the convenience store and supermarket plastic bags for.

17 ( +25 / -8 )

No they aren't essential at all. You just don't want to adapt.

Any suggestions of what to do with wet/smelly food that you need to throw away? I would love to hear some good ideas as I find it a struggle without using a plastic bag.

19 ( +26 / -7 )

The reality of single-use plastic shopping bags only make up a very small percentage of plastic overuse in Japan is still a long way from being realized.

18 ( +22 / -4 )

No they aren't essential at all. You just don't want to adapt.

Adapt with one's garbage how?

I'm all for reducing one's waste, but reducing to zero-wate is nearly impossible while living in a city. Therefore a further "solution" should be developed for waste management.

16 ( +19 / -3 )

Our prefecture sells plastic bags (20-40yen) for flammable and non-flammable waste. They specify that recyclable waste (plastic, cans, bottles) has to be in a clear plastic bag or they won’t take it. All ears if anyone has some suggestions on how to get around using plastic bags for rubbish. Cardboard is the only thing we can dispose of without the council requiring us to use a plastic bag.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I take my weekly collected food scraps to the local park and dig a big hole and dump them in-I’m saving a fortune not buying bags...

-4 ( +10 / -14 )

Numerous community composting sites on all the unused lots would be one possibility. Could lead to community gardens, too. Could give the older folks with time on their hands somewhere to go and something to do...running the composting sites and gardens.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I take my weekly collected food scraps to the local park and dig a big hole and dump them in-I’m saving a fortune not buying bags...

Hope the rest of your neighborhood doesn't start doing the same. You park will quickly become a cess pool.

Besides, one 3 yen bag per week is "a fortune"?

8 ( +13 / -5 )

Numerous community composting sites on all the unused lots would be one possibility.

Perhaps is a long term solution, but as of now, it's not practical, especially in the city.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

 Your park will quickly become a cess pool.

Not to mention, its illegal.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

Even if some people do buy plastic bags for garbage disposal, you only need so many bags for that purpose. I found that even with paying for larger bags from time to time, overall plastic bag usage does get less. When buying smaller quantities of stuff, I opt for no bag and just put them in my existing bag that I happen to have with me, and when at the supermarket, I get one or two large bags and use those for garbage. As for smaller bags used for throwing smelly stuff, we just keep the bag packagings of anything and reuse them. It is pretty amazing how many smaller size bags accumulate when you actually make an effort to keep/recycle them.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I take my weekly collected food scraps to the local park and dig a big hole and dump them in-I’m saving a fortune not buying bags...

Which is also against the law, and just imagine if everyone tried to do the same thing? Parks would be a smelly mess too.

And I would love for you to try this for a family of 6!

12 ( +14 / -2 )

Plastics, cardboard, glass, metal, PET bottles, all have their own bags, and if you rinse them they don't smell.

A lot of burnable trash is small bits - paper scraps, disposable chopsticks, hairballs - stuff that doesn't smell. Rinse whatever needs rinsing, put it in the city bag, and it won't smell.

The stuff that people like to tie up in plastic bags that they got at the store to avoid smell is leftover scraps and sink nets. Instead of plastic bags, you can use (1) a jar, (2) a tupperware container, or (3) a can with a tight lid, to keep scraps in for 3 days between moeru gomi collection days. You can also start (4) a bokashi composting bucket. Just remember that you don't put fermented food waste (natto, pickles etc) in it.

That's four solutions.

It can difficult to totally avoid using extra bin bags, depending on where you are in life. Used pet litter, baby diapers, sanitary products, can cause a smell. A lot of pet litter is flushable, the rest is not. and they require a city bin bag.

But for the most part, people can't even be bothered to rinse their rubbish before putting it in a bin bag, which has nothing to do with access to plastic bags.

-8 ( +6 / -14 )

From my shopping, I'm able to accumulate a lots of bag - cereal packaging, bags used to hold fruit or vegetables, potato chip bags, etc. These can all be used to hold smelly leftover scraps. Tie it up. No need to buy plastic bags.

Many people are simply lazy and just don't give a damn.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

Maria is on point here. Also, odorless trash cans are a thing. And a quick google search will bring up numerous ‘home’ remedies like baking soda, kitty litter and the like. If you can’t figure out a way to deal with your trash without using dozens of plastic bags, you’re not thinking hard enough.

-1 ( +8 / -9 )

Yup we’re guilty of buying bag to use for daily rubbish. Can a biodegradable bag not be made to fill the niche cos the demand is obviously there.....

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Same dilemma, I used supermarket plastic bags for garbage disposal, but I have to buy these bags now.

The use of plastic bags is still is still mandatory for garbage. Heck, my city changed the rule for recycled paper a few years ago, and it has to be disposed of in a big plastic bag.

Meanwhile, companies have not changed their convoluted plastic wrap scheme, because environmental rules never apply to them.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I don't know why but I keep forgetting to bring a bag with me when ever I go out then end up carrying out everything in my arms. I don't really see other men carrying a bag either, sometimes backpacks.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Invest in a fold up bag/s .....100 yen shop .....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I take my weekly collected food scraps to the local park and dig a big hole and dump them in-I’m saving a fortune not buying bags...

I don't believe you

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Of course this was going to happen. I saw it coming from a mile away, and I too have been stocking up on garbage bags as we need them for garbage disposal. Did these idiots in the govt not think this through? Of course they didn't.

One alternative I can think of is to sell specially designated garbage bags issued by the city or ward like they have in Kyoto. There, i don't have a 15 million yen a year salary like these useless politicians but I'll bet this idea is better than anything they can come up with.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Part of the idea is to reduce the amount of plastic bags that get thrown away outside and end up in the ocean and then in the stomachs of turtles and fish etc. or in the forest and take years or decades to degrade. Using plastic bags to throw out your household trash is fine and what we are still supposed to do. Such bags don't end up in the ocean.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The biggest single source of plastic in the ocean is abandoned or lost fishing gear. If you ever see an uncleaned beach, you'll see plenty of it. Other big ocean pollutants are paints, especially off ships, and tyre residue that has washed off roads.

Any consultation beforehand would have indicated that many shopping bags are reused for garbage. Meanwhile,there is still lots of genuine single-use plastic everywhere in Japan. Just look at the average bento in a plastic tray with a plastic lid and then still wrapped in cling film. Focusing on minor issues also takes attention away from other environmental problems, like Japan burning every more coal.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My local convenience store charges for plastic shopping bags but meanwhile sells each single banana and even single carrots in its own free see through plastic wrapper. It's this individual plastic wrapping that needs to be tackled. It's completely unnecessary and that plastic can't be used for any other purpose.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I take my weekly collected food scraps to the local park and dig a big hole and dump them in-I’m saving a fortune not buying bags...

Sarcasm or not this was the funniest post ever.

For a moment there I imagined my self with a spade in Yoyogi park explaining global warning to the police.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The only real solution is to require that all bags be biodegradable, and to charge enough for them to compel people to bring their own reusable bags. The plastics industry is one of the chief threats to the global environment.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Plastic bags are a luxury, not a necessity. I see too many plastic bags filled with raw food and garden waste. People are so stupid. It takes little effort to compost it. They are basically throwing away a useful item that can allow you to grow your own food. Local governments should start community compost dumps. It's just a wasteful shame.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

One alternative I can think of is to sell specially designated garbage bags issued by the city or ward like they have in Kyoto. There, i don't have a 15 million yen a year salary like these useless politicians but I'll bet this idea is better than anything they can come up with.

This is done in my city too, although the Kyoto bags were much more expensive if I recall. Still doesn't solve the "nama-gomi" problem though. And crows are so rampant that my neighbors told everyone to use another plastic bag inside the designated garage bag, obviously defeating the purpose of the seemingly biodegradable outer bag. Garbage collectors don't seem to care.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't know why but I keep forgetting to bring a bag with me

I cannot recommend trying to "remember" to bring a bag with you. I bet its precious few people who manage that one successfully. What you do is put your bags in a place where they will be with you when you need them. Mine are in my backpack and my backpack is generally in the car. I have three so that if one or two did not make it to the pack yet, I am still good. If I went shopping by bike, I would literally put a pouch on my bike for shopping bags and store them there. The trick is make the habit of putting the bags in the right place immediately after using them, which is easier as you looking right at them after you put the contents away. At the very least you could put them by the door after using so you see them on your way out.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japan should be ashamed for its total disrespect for nature and animals with regards to the use of plastic and plastic bags. Nearly every fresh item is already packed in plastic, using the extra thin plastic bags, which one has to fight Cassiers over NOT to use them, is madness and then packing all of that again in always to many carry on plastic is selfish as are many of the comments here.

i do not buy any non fresh products packed in plastic and if any alternative I choose the non plastic Prepacked fruits and vegetables. If any of my favourite foods change, from glass to plastic, I stop buying them.

I always take my own textile bags to shop, or re use paper bags ALWAYS. And it is no effort at all.

As for using plastic bags for food trash, try to trash less first of all and second use a minimum of plastic bags.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I cannot imagine that plastic bags are such a big deal they are all that's ever talked about. Last night my friend had a paper straw in his Starbuck's order. And that order was in a plastic cup with a plastic lid that probably could have made 10 plastic straws! I got some bad news but I don't think humanity is going to make it. Humans seem too intelligent for their own good for being too stupid to have proper priorities.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

You can buy biodegradable plastic bags where necessary for trash. The article specifically refers to non-degradable plastic bags. Venessa is wrong. In the mid-future (I seem to recall 30 years from now) there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight.) This is a serious issue.

The simple solution would be to make the production or sale of non-biodegradable bags of any size illegal.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I have a large dog. What alternatives do you suggest for cleaning up after it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I send all my garbage that I need to throw away immediately that would allure roaches into the Seven Eleven convenience store garbage containers as my garbage just loves to find its way there like a roach in search of food.

The cost of plastic bags do not bother me. What bother me is the fact that the stores making profits off plastic bags. if you can afford plastic bags dont be bothered and keep buying them.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

n1k1Today 10:54 am JST

I take my weekly collected food scraps to the local park and dig a big hole and dump them in-I’m saving a fortune not buying bags...

Sarcasm or not this was the funniest post ever.

For a moment there I imagined my self with a spade in Yoyogi park explaining global warning to the police.

This is how we do in the country side of Japan. Funny post indeed! Howerver, digging a hole and dumping raw food waste is really good as it act as fertilizer for the trees and grass.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

NZ has a ban on the use of plastic bags from stores and yes, and nobody really complained; it's as simple as carrying an eco-bag whenever you go out, and there are plenty of alternatives to garbage bags.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I saw this coming from miles away, EVERYONE uses those small bags at home for gomi....doh!

Hopefully some will come up with a some GOOD & eco-friendly home alternatives or people will just buy smaller pages for home-gomi!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Political will and vested interests. Use the cancelled Olympics and GoTo money to subsidize the already invented biodegradable plastic alternatives. Cut subsidies to industries heavily involved in the pollution, like fishieries and coastal industries, making support contigent upon changes to reduce pollution. Cut the power companies off the corporate welfare teat if they continue pouring money into petrochem through subsidiaries.

Off course all these measures would be "difficult" to these vested industries and it is much simpler to force consumers by law to pay for plastic bags at checkout.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Biodegradable bags are so easy to make (paper, starch made, etc.), but chemical industry is surely a lobby for Japanese politicians.

I am very far from being an ecologist, and I still do composting (no smell contrary to what you think), bag reuse and ask for no bag if it happens I can carry new item in my current bag.

So it is a pity very few care in Japan, especially in cities.

A funny but wrong point : My mother in law is discarding piles of paper to the dustmen each week or so, using meters of plastic string each time to keep it packed...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Any suggestions of what to do with wet/smelly food that you need to throw away? 

If compostable, compost it. You can compost using a cardboard box - you don't need a garden. Alternatively, start a wormery on your balcony - that will see off more the potentially smelly scraps. By reducing moisture this way, you'll find the smell in your bin virtually disappears.

If in a building, campaign for the management committee to create a composting space or get a communal composter.

Campaign for your chonaikai (neighbourhood association) to start composting bins in gardens or green space around your area. There are lots of cheap, quick and easy ways to do this. They can be made in minutes with a packet of zip ties and a roll of wire mesh, or with wooden boards.

If it's stuff like fish, like others said, put it one of the many smaller plastic bags you get goods in, such as for bread (which there are also far too many of), and stick it in the fridge/ freezer till rubbish day.

Line your waste bin with newspaper - that helps to prevent smells, even in summer.

Buy less overpackaged stuff and the volume of plastic to throw away will reduce dramatically.

Reuse food bags and take them to veg stores or bakeries. Ask them to put your goods in those. Better still, make washable cloth bags and do without the plastic altogether.

Do these things in small steps, starting with the easiest, and you'll find they become just a part of your routine. You'll be amazed as you see your plastic gomi shrink to a fraction of the average here in Japan.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Plastic carry bags are just a start. Japan just had an obsession with individually plastic wrapping everything.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It's this individual plastic wrapping that needs to be tackled. It's completely unnecessary and that plastic can't be used for any other purpose.

Our local bakery in AEON finally puts their bread in thin plastic, burnable bags, and the deli section has finally "bagged" their products too! No more having to worry about some customer picking their nose, and touching the food anymore!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

our use of plastic bags is 4-fold. First use is product transportation. Second use is storing cut or cooked food items in the fridge. Third is to wash and dry and turn inside out for third/second use. Last stage is use for collection of our dogs poopoo.

paper tissues. We use once and allow to dry. Then use a second time and discard.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@nonu6976

i haven’t read all the comments, so perhaps it’s already been suggested, but we have 2 large tuppers to collect all the garbage scraps. They may still smell in the summer, but I sprinkle a bit of baking soda on top and it lightens the skunk when I need to open it. Then I dump them all into the garbage just as I’m about to throw it out.

I hate wasting plastic bags, and I don’t like to handle little iffy bags of leaking fish guts either. The tuppers are just a million times better.

If you’re more of a go big or go home type of person, you can make a worm bin too. We have one and it eats about 1/2 our scraps, but I realize this wouldn’t be the most popular idea for various reasons

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I get so frustrated when I’m line at the bakery. Someone buys 10 buns. They wrap each of them in a plastic bag which they meticulously close with plastic tape. Then in a box (also closed with tape. And lined with parchment paper no doubt), then all placed in a large plastic bag. Oh, which is closed with, you guessed it, plastic tape.

The bakery is definitely at fault for continuing to offer this ridiculous “service”, but more so I judge the customer just standing there like a blind ghost

4 ( +6 / -2 )

The government knows that the policy of charging extra money for plastic bags saves only a few % of whole plastic products. But it’s aimed to people to become aware of eco-friendly.

I wish Japan move forward to catch up with eco-friendly advanced countries and also develop and promote replacements drastically, like a biodegradable bags in response to Japanese life style

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In the UK what has sprung up recently is bio fuels, one of which is coming from green waste, the way it works is all of your house hold, restaurant, school, hotel, and food manufactures food waste inc paper etc is collected in your dedicated waste recycling bin, this waste is collected and delivered to a place where all of the waste is liquidised and then it goes into a storage take where bacteria brake down the waste into methane which is tapped off and used in generators etc, the spent waste is then dried, and then sold to famers as compost, if this was, or is adopted in Japan you could recycle lots more waste, you could wrap up your food waste in this weeks shinbun news paper and recycle the whole lot, we just need to get away with thinking plastic is the only answer.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"I get so frustrated when I’m line at the bakery."

SOLUTION: Stop line at the bakery, bub.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Use a disposal in your sink. Have been using it for years and it grinds fish and chicken bones fine but don't use it it for pork or beef bones. Get the 3/4 hp or larger version.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

In London, we put all our food waste into a biodegradable bag and once a week the local council collects it along with the rubbish. It's reduced our household waste by a lot. There's the solution. If it works here, it'll work there.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Use a disposal in your sink. Have been using it for years and it grinds fish and chicken bones fine but don't use it it for pork or beef bones. Get the 3/4 hp or larger version.

Japanese households, typically speaking here, do not have waste disposal units installed. I agree it would be a great option, but the infrastructure is not set up to handle raw sewage like what you are talking about here.

Many places still have septic tanks, and the water purification systems are not able to handle raw sewage either

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have a cat, and so I have to use plastic bags to clean her litter box. I used to work at a pet store in the states, and they had biodegradable pet waste bags, but I haven't been able to find any here. Would love to find an alternative to using plastic bags for this. Maybe paper bags?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Forget paper and leafy bags. Both are the deforestation. Corn bags are slowly getting popular. There may be wheat flour bags soon.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's a start, but with bags accounting for only 3% of plastic waste, we need to do more. Somehow we have to reduce the number of PET bottles being used. Maybe an option to refill? Sounds gross, and they would need new machines, but anything's possible.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I've said it before , why plastic bags? Charge for paper bags、that should decrease the yse of plastic some

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Sorry to point out the obvious, but there is zero progress on this social justice movement when most of the grocery stores in Japan continue to wrap 50-75%+ of their produce in plastic wrap, and have rolls and rolls of free small plastic bags to put individual items in at your pleasure when bagging up your items.

Not to mention Japan no intention of ending the availability of plastic take out bags - only making you pay for them. So they are still being produced, still being purchased by the stores to have in stock.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I still get some free bags, but I buy them at Daiso. I consider it another tax. But I also use reusable bags because they are stronger.

It's interesting that in California, they have temporarily banned the use of reusable bags (and cups!) because of Covid-19.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love to pay for bags. I hope to pay for the use of the buggies next. And the lights. And the music in the store. And.....

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Yes, my plastic waste has doubled at least after this meaningless policy. I buy plastic bags from the convenience store to collect the garbage. Let the environment eat it.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

When I was young in my country, we would collect our food scraps, leftovers in a bucket which will be collected by an old woman and she'd use it to feed her pigs. We would just leave it in our front gate and she'd collect it every day.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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