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Can Japan end its love affair with plastic?

54 Comments
By Sara Hussein

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Plastics rule!

-12 ( +4 / -16 )

Can Japan end its love affair with plastic?

Simple answer: NO

I mean just what the hell is my bento going to be like without that little green plastic sheet, cut out to look like my lawn, holding back the grease from spreading to my rice!

19 ( +21 / -2 )

They can end it.... but it will not be easy. Japan, probably more than any other country worldwide, throws more layers of plastic packaging and more individual packs for food items than I've ever seen. Per capita, I've got to believe that the Japanese use more disposable plastic than any other country in the world. And it has probably gotten much worse in the last 20 years, when you consider the number of single individuals that buy individual food portions that are all wrapped in plastic.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

Japan generates more plastic packaging waste per capita than any other country except the United States, according to the U.N.

Its not a love affair, it's a very unhealthy obsession.

12 ( +15 / -3 )

Unfortunately this report is beside the point and it only conveys a part of things. Japan's waste disposal is sorted by "combustibles / non-combustibles", and many local governments treat plastics as combustibles. They have the ultra-high incinerator and it prevent the occurrence of toxic chemicals. Despite being a huge consumer of plastic packaging, this is why the generation of marine debris from Japan is low. (And Japan is the victim of drifted wastes from China and Korea)

The main cause of the marine debris problem is the runoff from the landfill. Every year, 15% of wastes from world's landfills drain into the sea.

-1 ( +9 / -10 )

And Japan is the victim of drifted wastes from China and Korea

I live on the Sea of Japan, and when I've been to the beach the washed up garbage is all in Japanese. I rarely see anything with Chinese or Korean on it.

17 ( +19 / -2 )

Japan would have to adapt its garbage collection system. There are no dumpsters for folks just dump trash directly into to skip the step of bagging trash. Most people don't have giant trash cans at their homes like in the US and keep shopping bags as trash bags. If stores eliminate plastic bags we would probably have to buy shopping bag sized plastic bags for the trash, which seems counter productive towards cutting use. The garbage trucks don't have a way to lift dumpsters like in the US. Most are tiny. There might be room for a neighborhood dumpster in the suburbs, but downtown, it would be a challenge.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

The amount of waste just grows every year and to counter there needs to be more education in schools and financial penalties for using plastic.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Another low info fluff piece. Here is the facts, 10 rivers create 90% or more of the plastic in the oceans, 5 in China, 1 in India, 1 in Pakistan, 1 in Laos, 2 in Africa.

Japan does an exceptional job in waste management and will continue to improve, unquestionably.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I follow a lot of green news. The National Geographic dedicates a lot of time to this topic. Among the tidbits I've absorbed:

-Nearly half of all plastic ever manufactured has been made since 2000

-90 percent of U.S. plastic isn't even recycled

They also keep a running list of positive steps being taken around the globe:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/

7 ( +7 / -0 )

It's going to be a hard move but I'm all in. I always refuse platic bag at convenient store (ain't need for my water bottle) , they can ban it or ask customer to pay for it. We did it in my country 20 years ago.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I live on the Sea of Japan, and when I've been to the beach the washed up garbage is all in Japanese. I rarely see anything with Chinese or Korean on it.

Feel free at anytime to come and visit Kume Island in Okinawa. Go to the east side of the island, where the ocean currents wash up literally tons and tons of garbage from cruise ships, fishing boats, and lord only knows what else, end up on the beaches. You will find it comes from both China and Korea and Viet Nam and a crap loard of other places.

You probably dont see any from China or Korea because of the deep ocean currents that bring it down here.

Oh and by the way, what about all the North Korean fishing boats that have washed up on the Sea of Japan side? Really it's all about location and currents here.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

It is impossible for any country to completely give up on plastics. Just have a look around your room and see how many plastic products you can see. Eve the keyboard I am typing this on is made from plastic. However, single use plastics must be controlled. It is also impossible to get rid of single use plastics completely. However, in Japan, many food items are unnecessarily wrapped in plastic, especially fruit and vegetables. Why do they wrap a single apple in plastic? A single banana? A single carrot? And many more fruits and vegetables. Then, there is the famous individually wrapped bag of chocolates and cookies. By the time you finish eating them, you end up with a huge pile of unnecessary plastic. Reducing the amount of shopping bags used is easy, but they are not the most wasteful use of plastics in Japan.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Before, I recall paper bags circulated which were coated with some kind of oil inside. That was for the purpose of liquids do not ooze out.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Since pre-packaged ready-made food is rather pricey, uses too much plastic and tends to be on the unhealthy side, I've decided to try to cut my plastic use by 90%, including not using plastic shopping bags anymore.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Schopenhauer - Before, I recall paper bags circulated which were coated with some kind of oil inside. That was for the purpose of liquids do not ooze out.

That's the really crazy thing about paper shopping bags. They were phased out because they were expensive and were detrimental to the environment because of the amount of trees that were cut down to make them. As a result, they were replaced with plastic. How's that working for expense and environmental impact? The cost of cleaning up plastics is immeasurable and the damage to the environment is unprecedented. Good call people!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Would be great if the recycling system were more accessible to everyone. While on a year and a half return to the U.S. in the early 00's I was able to keep large bins to separate plastics, PET, wood, metals, rubber and other miscellaneous materials. I would make the drive on either Saturday or Sunday mornings to deposit them at the recycling center once or twice each month.

That scenario would not work in Japan but having a community centralized recycling capability would work. Even if it only reduced non recycled materials to 50 or 60 percent it would be better than what we have now. I think there would be a lot more participation if something easily accessible were available. This would also create jobs.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japan's waste disposal is sorted by "combustibles / non-combustibles",

Have you ever seen the trash cans at the conbini or starbucks. The signs say "paper" or "plastic" but the trashcan below it is ONE so it ends up together in the end, not to mention people throw away plastic in the paper and vice versa because they simply don't care.

There is a company in Indonesia that makes plastic from cassava plants which are biodegradable. Japan should import those or do research on those bags on how to improve them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yesterday being the nice day it was meant I spent most of the day at the park with the kids. I popped round to the bakery for some sausage breads for them and stuff for myself and the guy was starting to individually wrap each item in a plastic bag, so I asked him to just put them all in a bag together.

It will be real progress in this country when shop staff use their heads when bagging up, it's pretty annoying having to constantly ask them not to use so much plastic that just gets thrown in the bin straight away.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

while plastic currently reigns supreme (individually wrapped chips you must have experienced some time) I do believe that Japan can succeed with paper and other materials where others have failed because of the history of boxed food. Origami and small ingenious forms used in creative ways await to delight the public while taking part in a recycling future

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The reason plastic is used so much is that it is the safest, cheapest option.

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

And Japan is the victim of drifted wastes from China and Korea

Exactly this. Japan actually ships its plastic off to China for disposal. Japan loves to delude itself to thinking that it is environmentally conscious but the truth is far from it. The world falls for the crack that Japan speaks about environmental responsibility every time they have a summit. Remember the Kyoto Protocol? Ha!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

@WSlifko;This would also create jobs.

"We have a serious problem, the Japanese population is going down to half the number of the current population within 50 years."

Instead of relying on human immigrants or a baby boom to solve the decline, Prof Ishiguro points to the possibility of utilising robots instead.

"We don't have enough annual immigrations, Japan is an isolated country, it's an island, our culture is quite different from other countries,"

"It is not so easy for the foreigners to survive in Japan in some sense,' Prof Ishiguro said.

"That is the main reason why we are so crazy for creating robots, and robots would be better at sorting and waste management, this is what the Government should look at, also automated self driving delivery with boxes and very little packaging.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Add chopsticks and tissues to the waste problem. I have my own chopsticks when I go out, and after using a tissue, I dry it and reuse.

For plastic, I bought a ¥300 plastic basket which is very convenient. I use tubberware in my fridge/pantry.

just simple things reduced my waste by 50%.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You know you have a plastic obsession, when your plastic bag of sweets is individually wrapping ea h and single sweet into its own plastic cover, inside of a bigger plastic cover for all. I mean its not that the ammount of plastic from a sweet/cookie box is more than the sweets inside, it’s jist plain frustrating opening each and one of them in order to eat.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

And just what is this magic "tubberware" made from?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

No, and it drives me insane.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And the sad part is a lot of the effort & expense to sort garbage here & a lot still ends up being incinerated or even worse stuffed into containers that are shipped to 3rd world countries to be """ re-cycled"""...……...which means a lot ISNT!

This "garbage trade" is getting so bad some 3rd world countries are starting to REFUSE these shipments & I say GOOD for them!!

Modern countries have to get their %$# together literally on many fronts not just plastic!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Can Japan end its love affair with plastic?

Since China is no longer excepting our plastic and we still haven’t found another Asian country who will take it, there’s not many other options other than reducing use.

Because there hasn’t been a follow up article on how Japan is “processing” it’s plastic after this change, I imagine we’re simply melting or burning it. Neither way is sustainable and it looks like the waste industry is dragging its feet.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan actually ships its plastic off to China for disposal. Japan loves to delude itself to thinking that it is environmentally conscious but the truth is far from it. The world falls for the crack that Japan speaks about environmental responsibility every time they have a summit.

Guess what? Germany, the USA and most other developed countries do the same thing. Sometimes they ship their trash to African nations. Clearly, the world needs to reconsider not just plastic, but a whole range of things that are unsustainable and creating massive environmental problems. Nobody, absolutely nobody, is clean enough to be pointing fingers at others.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Can Japan end its love affair with plastic?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Oh dear me no. Not a chance in hell.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It doesn't really help when you tell the person at the till that you don't need a bag and says hai and you still walk out with a bag in your hand

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Unfortunately this report is beside the point and it only conveys a part of things. Japan's waste disposal is sorted by "combustibles / non-combustibles", and many local governments treat plastics as combustibles. They have the ultra-high incinerator and it prevent the occurrence of toxic chemicals. 

Masako Kobayashi - you are forgetting the 500 million tons of plastic waste that Japan has exported to China annually for recycling.

China has had enough of dealing with Japanese waste and decided to limit it. And now plastic waste management is on the agenda in Japan.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

When it comes to plastic in the oceans we are already past the point of no return. Huge island of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean. Micro plastic discovered on the seabed of the Antarctic. Last week a dead whale discovered with 80 kg of plastic in its stomach. So sad we destroy that which provides us with so much. We lost respect for Mother Earth decades ago.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

It doesn't really help when you tell the person at the till that you don't need a bag and says hai and you still walk out with a bag in your hand

Sheesh! Just grab the item in your hand after they ring it up. After a few times they get the message.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And Japan is the victim of drifted wastes from China and Korea

Don't you just love the way the Japanese just straight blame everything on China and Korea without any knowledge of the real problem? 99% of the plastics in the ocean gyres can be traced back to third world countries in Asia. The Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, etc. Furthermore, if you spend some time at the beaches in Japan looking at the garbage, you will notice it is 99% domestic garbage from Japan. I spend a lot of time at the beaches on the east coast and they are constantly littered with local domestic garbage. I also often see people who just leave all their garbage on the beach when they are finished. Japan likes to tout itself as a super environmentally aware country with strict recycling and garbage separation practices, but the reality is very different once you get out of the cities.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Low temperature of the fire is also caused by high fuel humidity, particularly wood. The most frequently repeating notion is thatburning plastics produces dioxins. ... Dioxins in the off-gasses of combustion will be present in wood fires and plasticfires alike, if chlorine is present.Apr 22, 2018

So we should know wood burning is not good either

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

The use of vending, and subsequent collection at vending, of both plastic and aluminium is a particularly Japanese way of achieving great efficiency in packaging.

We in Australia now buy heavy duty plastic shopping bags that we reuse, I think the biggest issue with free ones, was they would blow from the rubbish dump, out to sea, and get swallowed by the Turtles, Whales & Dolphins.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Nope, most people reuse the bags for rubbish. Some houses might have a small rubbish bin in each room as well as the main one in the kitchen. Whatever the number you’ll always need 4-5 bags a week just to separate your rubbish. So, either you reuse which I reckon is better than buying bags just to use once!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The only way to do it is to ban them entirely, and replace them with biodegradable alternatives. Pet bottles are another issue that needs to be addressed. I attempt to avoid buying anything that is processed and/or over-packaged, which can be difficult, and carry my own shopping bags. If more people did so, there would be much less waste.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Food packaging is clearly over the top in Japan. The bit of lawn in a bento is a fine example. Putting fruit that will be peeled in plastic is simply wasteful. Japan may successfully process or dispose of a large proportion of this waste, but the less plastic there is to begin with, the less the public will have to pay for these processes (polluter does not pay) and the less plastic will escape and pollute our environment.

It is possible to have reusable PET bottles, some countries (Denmark?) have them, but with all reusable schemes, you have to enforce standard packaging on companies. In a free market, unique, unrecyclable packaging will be one way companies make their products stand out. You have to have rules to stop them.

The article doesn't mention them, but more steps need to be taken against microplastics in the form of microbeads and microfibers. These are already appearing in most fish, table salt, etc. consumed by humans. No-one knows what this will do to our health.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Not in the near future. lived there for almost 10 years; and I'd have to say that even though Japan is most certainly guilty of overpackaging goods using plastic, most Japanese citizens religiously practice waste sorting and proper garbage disposal. I was most impressed with how the community I lived in disposed of pet bottles- separating the bottle caps and wrap-around bottle labels before crushing and disposing of the pet bottles. They also take the effort to fold and cut large paper boxes that need to be disposed. I also appreciate the fact that there is regular schedule of garbage pick-up (and pick-up point) set by the local government.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The cause, problem and solution is not a single nation but a global one. Check out countries like Thailand, India. Just Look at the state of the sacred River Ganges by the time it reaches the Indian Ocean.

Certainly Japan overpacks everything and these days that means plastics. But there are also plastics in items like washing liquids thing micro plastics to help the flow.

Plastic straws used globally daily by the billions.

Japan is good at recycling but not all plastic are or can be collected and dealt with.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A key obstacle, activists say, has been the association representing Japan's ubiquitous convenience stores, which are sprinkled across every block of the country's major cities.

This deserves emphasis. Convenience stores are the absolute worst at producing unnecessary plastic waste. Every time I buy any kind of snack or food I get swamped with plastic bags, plastic forks, wet tissues wrapped in plastic and/or plastic straws. I ask for none of these things yet they are thrust at me so quickly by cashiers acting on autopilot that half the time I don’t even get a chance to tell them I don’t want them. It is infuriating! Probably 90% of the plastic they dispense isn’t even used by the customers who receive them and god knows how much of it ends up in rivers or the ocean.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Plastics rule!

I imagine marine wildlife folks who have to deal with animals being trapped in plastic have a different view.

Not to mention the fish that ends up on our plates, having ingested all those particles.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

At this moment to reduce the consumption of plastic bags, GOVT. can make a law and enforce to all shop, super & shopping mall that customer shall pay for plastic bags. It may help to reduce little but start to control using plastic bags.

Most of the 100 yen shops are full of plastic products, people using since cheap and one time use items.

This is also a big headache.

Using plastic bags or products are related to income too.

Govt. should take initiate to increase wage/salary, so that people can feel comfortable to choose other bags made by cloth or paper material even need to buy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Its not just Japan that has a unhealthy appetite for plastic. The USA and the UK is pretty bad to! yet again at the weekend I did my usual shop and I looked not only my shopping, but the lady in front of me, 99% was coved in plastic film of some description, and some was in a plastic tray with film! is it really necessary?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Japan doesn't do environmental friendly. When I lived there, I was amazed to see the packaging..in packaging! In the UK, we're beginning to fight back against plastic and it's being noticed. In this morning's Guardian, one of the biggest UK retailers (Tesco) is about to begin plastic free trial for fruit and veg. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/25/tesco-begins-plastic-free-trial-for-selection-of-fruit-and-veg

3 ( +3 / -0 )

These plans are ridiculous unless everyone, everywhere are going to follow suit - which they won't.

Some grocery stores charge for plastic bags, some don't. Even if they all eventually switch to charging for them, guess what? They will still have them on hand which means they'll still be made. So you'll have changed nothing for the environment.

And this is coming from a country which leads the world in people sitting in their cars on the sides of roads nationwide, with car running/idling - either sleeping, playing on their phone, watching tv, etc. Yes, they REALLY care about the environment.

And let's not even get into the love affair with wasting paper in Japan (and it doesn't matter much if paper is biodegradable when companies/corporations big and small are not committed to using only recycled paper).

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Some grocery stores charge for plastic bags, some don't. Even if they all eventually switch to charging for them, guess what? They will still have them on hand which means they'll still be made.

Last year, two of the main Australian supermarkets stopped selling one-use plastic bags at the supermarket while I was there. They were selling hefty multi-use plastic bags for 15cents, but they were also selling hefty fabric bags for 99cents. Everyone seemed to be using the fabric bags for the most part. When compared to the number of one-use bags they were using previously - 10,000 a day? More? It's a massive reduction.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And just what is this magic "tubberware" made from?

Mine is made from glass.

50% of Japanese oil is used to make plastic. So we are supporting many wars.

nano plastic is present in large amounts of fish. Long term studies are being carried out to understand the effects on human bodies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Strangerland: The difference is the AU supermarkets you are referencing stopped selling them altogether. Japan is simply charging for them, which means they'll still be made and kept stocked in all the stores here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan seems to be having trouble banning ivory, so how on earth is Japan going to handle plastic?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As always, I look at things from a British perspective. Recycling in Britain is notable by its absence. Everything goes into a single wheelie bin. The city collects it and hauls it to a dump.

The tenant just moved out of my house in the north of England. They left behind enormous plastic bags filled with unsorted junk, much that could be recycled. I have to pay to have it hauled to a land fill site.

When refurbishment is done, the builder rents a skip that is placed in front of the house. All rubbish goes in it, including material that could be recycled.

This is the pattern throughout Britain so even if there is less plastic in food packaging there is enormous waste elsewhere.

As for China not taking Japanese waste, this is not just a Japan-China issue. A large number of English language reports have described how Chinese policy has hit the US, Australia, and other countries. Here is an example of such a report.

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.

https://e360.yale.edu/features/piling-up-how-chinas-ban-on-importing-waste-has-stalled-global-recycling

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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