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Big plastic user Japan fights waste ahead of G20 summit

47 Comments
By Alex Barreira and Haruka Nuga

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47 Comments
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I cannot fathom how the USA could use more single-use plastic than Japan. I've lived in both countries and it never seemed like I threw out nearly as much plastic as I do in Japan. The thing is.... the USA has far more land available to dispose of its garbage.

7 ( +13 / -6 )

Japan is the world's No. 2 consumer of single-use plastic packaging per person — the United States is No. 1

I find this truly hard to believe. The US has a population that is three times larger than Japan, and it seems to me that the authors are just trying to keep Japan from being the number one abuser!

I also do not get why Japan does not invest in the high-temperature waste disposal incinerators that are capable of burning PET bottles without any harm to the environment.

5 ( +12 / -7 )

Selected 7-Eleven stores near Tokyo, including one at Yokohama, have started offering paper bags instead of plastic.

Thus is very ironic. Paper bags were replaced by plastic bags in the 70's due to plastic being cheaper and it was believed to be more environmentally friendly because no tress were cut down to make them. Now, after half a century of plastic waste build up they are returning to paper bags.

20 ( +20 / -0 )

I just went and bought a small onigiri and they stuck it in a plastic bag with wet handwipes, wrapped in plastic of course, before I could refuse.

In the US, they ask you if you want a bag for three or less items. That'd help a lot if they'd do that here in Japan.

Back in the 70s I used to debate whether it was better to get a paper or plastic bag at the supermarket. I definitely now think paper is better to use since it's biodegradable.

Also Japan has a way too many sugi/cedar trees that cause millions terrible hay fever every year. You'd be able to kill two birds with one stone by going paper again.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

experts who say that Japan cannot recycle its way out of a global plastic waste crisis, and that the country instead needs to focus on reducing plastic at the earlier end of the supply chain

This!

It's great that Japan is finally having a conversation about the problem. It was way overdue. There should be an immediate ban on exporting your waste to other countries. This would spur action. Great to see some countries saying no thanks.

SaikoPhysco, I have the same feeling--astonishment. I've read an explanation for this before but I can't remember what it was. Anyone else know?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I've been saying this for years, but why not add water fountains in more public places (and government buildings).

It seems silly to me that when you make your occasional trip to city hall, or a public park, you have to buy a PET bottle of water for 100-120 yen, when all you need is a sip or 2 of water on a hot day.

By the way, what's the first thing sold out on 40 degree summer days?

I think Japan loves its PET bottles because it's easy to make money off thirsty people!

12 ( +12 / -0 )

experts who say that Japan cannot recycle its way out of a global plastic waste crisis, and that the country instead needs to focus on reducing plastic at the earlier end of the supply chain

this was never a problem for Japan when they were able to just ship their plastic waste off to China to forget about and make it somebody else’s problem. Now, they have to deal with it themselves and realizing just how much of a crisis state they are in with production and overuse of single use plastics. The mountains of unrecycled and unrecyclable plastic waste are already building in Japan and this sudden awareness of the crisis only a year or so after China stopped accepting Japanese plastic waste is already too little too late.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

Japan is also the world's No. 2 exporter of plastic waste. It used to export about 1.5 million tons per year, mainly to China. After China stopped accepting plastic imports in 2017, several Southeast Asian nations became new targets, but some countries, including Malaysia and the Philippines, are now turning the shipments back. They accused rich countries of pushing their garbage onto poorer nations.

The above is what really pisses me off, when I learned that THE ABOVE was how Japan was recycling it really made me mad, I know other countries were\are also exporting garbage to other countries BUT this was a betrayal to the people of Japan who falsely thought they were doing right but we are all still doing wrong!!

Japan, start banning plastic bags, pet bottles to boot for a quick START! We will be able to make the adjustment.

Good on China & SE Asia for refusing our gomi!

12 ( +12 / -0 )

I just went and bought a small onigiri and they stuck it in a plastic bag with wet handwipes, wrapped in plastic of course, before I could refuse.

Yeah, that happens to me sometimes too, but I always ask the staff to please take the plastic back becasue there is too much everywhere already. Saying " chikyuu ni yasashiku " usually gets a nod from the staff and hopefully me saying it loud enough makes the next person in line behind me to think about refusing it as well.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

 [plastic] was believed to be more environmentally friendly because no tress were cut down 

I can't believe the amount of people I've met in life who think that using paper reduces the amount of trees in the world! "Save trees, don't use paper". It shows a real misunderstanding of how the world works. Paper manufacturers aren't ripping up endangered forests, they plant and harvest trees in plantations. Trees are a renewable and non-polluting resource, the oil used to make plastic isn't.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

@GW

its refreshing to see a japanese person acknowledging the error in their ways. However, unfortunately, you are part of a very small minority. Most Japanese are still openly blaming and hating other Asian countries for the plastics waste in the oceans and on beaches. They completely ignore the fact that most of this plastic waste originated in japan. Perhaps these Asian countries were recycling Japanese waste as per the agreement, but it also made the unable to manage their own plastic waste, which ended up in the oceans.

Most people will only point fingers at end users, but it is the manufacturers who have caused this wanton glut of plastics slowly consuming the earth.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

"Japan and the US the only countries not to sign the G7 Plastic Charter."

In this case the nails that stick out should definitely be pounded down.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Yubaru -

"....I also do not get why Japan does not invest in the high-temperature waste disposal incinerators that are capable of burning PET bottles without any harm to the environment..."

As I understand high temp incinerators are already in extensive use.

Many people would be surprised to know that over 60+% of all plastics are burnt in facilities under the mis-nomer of "Thermal Recycling". The heat created generates power, heats water etc, so hey - it's recycling!

The big problem with such hi-temp incinerators is the extremely high tech & maintenance required to keep all safe and well. Such a system is as only good as the constant checking and monitoring allows. Some questions have been asked about such plants.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

How farcical this article is!

Japan is hardly fighting plastic waste when every single shop in Japan is more than willing to triple wrap any single purchase.

Anyone living in Japan knows just how cavalier Japan’s laws are on the environment.

It is only now, when China is refusing to become a dumping ground for Japan’s waste that we hear anything about ‘Japan fighting plastic waste’

11 ( +12 / -1 )

@SaikoPhysco

A lot of Americans are surprised to learn that Japan is behind the US in per capita plastic consumption. You may indeed have used more plastic in Japan, however think about the large numbers of Japanese, poorer than you, that bring down their per capita consumption below the US.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Also Japan has a way too many sugi/cedar trees that cause millions terrible hay fever every year. You'd be able to kill two birds with one stone by going paper again.

Funny (not really) in a sad way, the pollen problem from the cedar trees here is also a man made one as well. Back o few hundred years ago, trees were literally running out here in Japan, and the local governments and shogun decided to plant cedar trees, literally by the thousands, because cedar grows relatively fast and is used nearly universally here, in construction and other areas as well.

Now people are suffering because of the pollen, and yet these trees could be used as a replenishment supply for paper products!

10 ( +10 / -0 )

It's great that Japan is finally having a conversation about the problem. It was way overdue.

Dont know if you are aware of the irony of your comment. Japan has been discussing many issues, some for literally longer than I have been alive, let's just say well over half-a-century!

Starting a conversation here, and something actually being accomplished are two very different stories. Dont ever be surprised when nothing comes from it, it's the "world's" problem, excluding Japan, and that is how far too many here see it!

People like their conveniences, and are unwilling to give them up for the greater good and until the collective puts pressure on each other to change, it's all just talk!

It's been at least half a decade or more since supermarkets here started charging for plastic bags, and finally convenience stores are starting to discuss doing the same thing! And implementing it will probably take another 3 to 5 years!

Change only comes when one generation or two literally "dies" and passes the torch to the next senior citizens!

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The "cedar" problem in Japan is much more recent. It's actually post war. The trees were planted for reconstruction and then Japan decided to reduce lumber tariffs in the 1960s as a bargaining chip for exported manufactured goods. At that time, Japanese forestry was already suffering from collapse in demand for charcoal (from hardwood trees, previously Japan's main fuel), and has never recovered. Japan has extensive tree plantations, but is mountainous, which seriously jacks up costs. Most flat land in Japan is built on or agriculture. The trees are all on mountainsides.

During "shogun" times, Japan's forests were managed pretty much sustainably under the satoyama system. Japan's population was only 40 million as late as 1900, so the country was a completely different place.

Plastic is excessive in Japan, but it should be noted that the country is already the world's biggest importer of wood pulp. Japan should be cutting back on paper use too. Every newspaper in Japan is delivered with god knows how many flyers and junk mail type inserts.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

The introduction of plastic wrap to a culture obsessed with neatly wrapping gifts has led to some very wasteful practices. Every piece of produce in a grocery store, every plastic straw or stirrer in a coffee shop all wrapped in even more plastic.

They should switch back to using rice paper to wrap most items. It can be locally, sustainably sourced providing both environmental and economic benefits.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

A ¥200 packet of biscuits contains a ridiculous amount of plastic here.

The outer packaging, a plastic tray inside and each of the 8/10 biscuits individually wrapped in plastic.

And if you buy them at a conbini, the cashier is eager to put them in a little plastic bag for you, even if it’s your only purchase.

Such blatant, unnecessary waste.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Quick! Hide it before the G20!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

This is an urgent environmental issue as well as being a business and technology opportunity. Hopefully Japan can lead the way. One way I felt waste was reduced in the US recently was the practice in some stores of charging for plastic bags which may cause you to use a reusable bag or no bag. Also, plastic can be recycled and innovatively used as a raw material for other products. The recycling industry is the future.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Plastic shopping bags should be charged at the amount it costs to dispose of them. That would probably make them 300 yen instead of three. People would then look after them and reuse them.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

"Just last summer, Japan was criticized for failing to sign the G7 Plastics Charter, the only country to do so besides the United States."

Why does Japan have to emulate EVERYTHING the U.S.A. does?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

@Reckless

”Hopefully Japan can lead the way”

They must be one of the worst offending countries in plastic waste in the developed world.

How are they leading the way?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The charging for a plastic bag is an interesting one. I know that if I'm not prepared (with my own bag) that I wouldn't have a problem buying a plastic bag for 5 yen or 10 yen or what have you. Whereas some people steadfastly refuse to even pay 1 yen for a plastic bag. They believe it should be part of the purchase. For people like me maybe 5 or 10 yen is too little. Maybe they might think about increasing it to some stupid amount to really get the message across, then again the consumers will go elsewhere if they are charging 1000 yen for a plastic bag. I think some people above have said it already that plastic bags at convenience stores are only a part of the problem. I'm sitting here writing this with a 2 litre PET bottle on my desk. Am I going to reuse it? Probably not.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One of the biggest environmental disasters

5 ( +5 / -0 )

If Abe really wants to tackle this problem he can start by banning exports of plastic waste from Japan. This will force the country to deal with its own mess, instead of dumping it on third world countries.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I've finally trained all the employees at my local 7/11 that I want my purchases in the empty tote bag I've placed on the counter, and that if I need chopsticks or a spoon, I'll ask for it. Occasionally a newbie will start to pull out a plastic bag before a veteran employee shakes their head at them.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Many people would be surprised to know that over 60+% of all plastics are burnt in facilities under the mis-nomer of "Thermal Recycling". The heat created generates power, heats water etc, so hey - it's recycling!

It's the official and internationally used term (for a process used in multiple countries and that wasn't originally developed in Japan anyway), so in that respect, it is recycling, whether it meets your image or not.

As a means of generating electricity or municipal heating, it's not particularly efficient in terms of how much "fuel" is consumed, and it's a one time only process rather than sending the raw material around and around in multiple cycles of use. However, it's a preferable method to landfill, accidental loss, illegal dumping, or exporting the problem to other countries.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

At a bakery yesterday I bought three items, all were put in individual plastic bags and tied with plastic tags. Why? They are then put into a plastic carrier bag and plastic wrapped wet wipes added. Again, why? I wasn't asked. I said I could put the items in my cotton bag, I don't want the wipes. Why isn't the bread put in paper bags?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Regarding the plastic bag cost, I think thing should be worked out 2 ways : increased the price of the plastic bag and decrease the cost of the reuse bag.

If you go to a 100yen shop, you get your reuse bag for 100 yens + tax (for cheapest choice : bargaining shop, 2nd hand, present, ...). You put it in your normal bag. Use it. Then come one day you forgot it, realizing it in the supermarket you often have 2 choices : buy a plastic bag at 5yens or buy a reuse bag at 300yens. There is quite a big gap and you kind of feel like : why does the reuse one cost 3 times the price of the same one, I forgot at home, moreover since it has the name of the shop on it, so I will be doing free advertisement and it will be embarrassing to use it in another shop. (3rd choice : stuffing your normal bag and carrying the rest by hand, 4th no shopping until you get a reuse bag).

It will be good if stores sell reuse bag with a really low profit (you still need to make them have a "real" cost to avoid overuse then overproduction with the associated environmental cost).

The bag in the supermarket is not the only problem, it is the same for other shops. So the use of reuse bag should be encouraged in any kind of shop. They can just do as for supermarket : first train the customer in "having a bag is not obvious" by asking them if they need one, second have "cheap" reuse bag to sell at the cashier and asking the customer what they prefer, third starting informing they will charge plastic bag, fourth charge it, then totally suppress it by only having the "cheap" reuse bag at disposal. (I know the supermarket are still not at the end of the cycle).

If they want to lead the way they better start sprinting. The light plastic bag you can get in lot of shops for free or not are already totally banned in some countries.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Plastic bags and single use plastic banned as it is now in some countries like Kenya. Paper bags from recycled paper.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

When I’m in the supermarket produce section I don’t use the provided small plastic bags for the single onion, or apple or whatever I’m buying. When I get to the check-out, without fail the cashier starts to put them in small plastic bags for me. I stop her from doing so and she looks surprised.

Its therefore highly unusual for a customer to do this, highlighting the huge problem here.

It’s obviously ingrained in consumer society that every piece of fruit, every vegetable, bread roll, toilet cistern deodorant gel, pack of batteries etc. must be wrapped in a small plastic bag......which is then taken home and thrown away immediately.

Senseless waste.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Yubaru

Dont know if you are aware of the irony of your comment.

I didn't mean it as ironic but thanks for condescending like I'm FOTB.

So, yes, I do think there's a discussion taking place in Japan. One I don't recall hearing during my 20 years off and on here. Does this mean I suddenly love me some Abe or the LDP or have lost every cynical bone in my body--no. But changes are taking place--21,000 7-11s ain't nothing.

Should the government do more, hell yes, but Abe's fleeting advocacy might provide cover to shops to do more--god knows they'd save enormous amts. of money by limiting their packaging. They can explain to their customers that the government wants them to make changes.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

When I’m in the supermarket produce section I don’t use the provided small plastic bags for the single onion, or apple or whatever I’m buying. When I get to the check-out, without fail the cashier starts to put them in small plastic bags for me. I stop her from doing so and she looks surprised.

I do that too. "No plastic bag, please". I think some of the regular check out assistants at my local shops know me now, but they still do it because they have been told to. Do peppers need to go in their own bag? Nah.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I am amazed no one has mentioned disposable face masks which are worn and thrown away in the millions (and cannot be recycled) that in Japan you need to put your rubbish in a plastic bag on bin collection day!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I can never understand why bacon, which wouldn't leak anything even if you squeezed it hard and which is already wrapped, has to go in its own flimsy plastic bag. Especially since eggs, which would be very messy if broken, don't go in a flimsy bag.

The supermarkets I usually go to understand that I don't need any extra bags. But you have to watch other places like a hawk. They'll put stuff in flimsy plastic bags as soon as look at you.

I understand that wrapping is part of Japanese culture. But so was smoking and happily, that is dying out.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Perfect. Just fight it before the G20 and go back to normal. Then reignite the fight just before the Olympics, then back to normal. Can totally live without plastic bags and every item wrapped in multiple layers of plastic for a month here and there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is a lot of fixation on plastic bags. As someone who carries nylon bags with them, I don't think that's such a great problem actually. The amount of plastic used for a plastic bag is about a quarter compared to a single 1.5 liter pet bottle. And so , I am not surprised Americans use more plastic than even Japan. American bags are bigger. And Americans usually get their milk in plastic but in Japan its in a paper carton. And a US gallon of milk is nearly 4 liters! Americans drink a lot of Coke and other sodas and even water from two liter bottles, but in Japan not so much. Its really not the flimsy plastic wrapping that is the problem..its the hard solid plastics that make up most of the waste.

Personally, I want everything in glass and I consider the extra weight to be exercise....and there are always carts. I used to buy soft drinks specifically because they were in glass. My fridge is full of glass jars because I often take everything out of the plastic and put them in jars for storage. The jars are just reused from things like pickles and saurkraut with a few lock lid jars I got from the 100 yen shop for convenience. I would like my milk in glass as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All for show. I’m more curious to see what we’re going to do after these events to keep these initiates alive after the “big show”. Ditto for the Olympics and rugby. Big commotion leading up to the event then will slowly be forgotten, IMHO.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The G20 summit will generate a ton of greenhouse gases. Each country arriving on their own planes with large numbers of staff. Disruption to the citizens of Osaka. Time to rethink how they hold these G7/G8/G20 summits when we are living in the online digital age.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A poster of a crying whale advertising re-usable bags hangs in 7/11. The irony is clearly lost.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And Americans usually get their milk in plastic but in Japan its in a paper carton.

Which are lined with a thin layer of plastic, making the cartons unrecyclable. There are some people left in the UK who still get their milk delivered to their doorstp daily by a milkman, in reusable glass bottles.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Which are lined with a thin layer of plastic, making the cartons unrecyclable. 

Both the local Coop and the municipal recycling centre collect milk cartons which they recycle into toilet paper.

I once did a school project with my kids when they were little, using milk cartons to make faux-washi postcards. Very pretty they were, too.

Milk cartons are not unrecyclable.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In many locations, including ours, Japanese milk cartons are separated and prepared for recycling by cutting them and opening them flat before placing in the recycling bin.

The recycled cartons are used for other products.

http://www.yokankyo.jp/img/publish/2013_report4_e.pdf

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hemp for the win. Makes good paper bags, and thousands of other products, plastic free. It's slowly becoming legal here in the states. Could solve a lot of issues.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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