Japan is set to introduce charges for plastic bags at stores, making free plastic bags a thing of the past.
Charging plastic bags is a "symbolic" effort
Japan's Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada announced on Monday, June 3, 2019, at a press conference that the country will be prohibiting retailers, including supermarkets and convenience stores, from giving out plastic bags for free, The Japan Times reported.
The price of a plastic bag is to be determined by the retailers, however, the ministry expects them to charge around 10 yen (S$0.13) for a bag.
Retailers are also requested to use the money for environmental purposes, such as afforestation and spreading awareness of marine pollution.
While the proportion of plastic bags among plastic waste is "not big" according to Harada, charging a fee for it is symbolic of Japan's efforts to reduce plastic waste.
The law is set to kick in by the end of 2020.
The push comes ahead of the G20 Summit set to be held in Osaka on June 28 and 29, as well as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Japan produces a lot of plastic waste
Despite the attention they give to sorting out trash and recycling, Japan produces the largest amount of plastic waste per capita after the U.S.
The country is known for its obsession with immaculate packaging.
It is not uncommon to see individually-wrapped snacks lined up neatly in beautifully-printed boxes that people then buy as omiyage (a souvenir that people give to friends).
Turning to alternatives
Japanese manufacturers have recently started to tackle the excessive use of plastic for packagings.
Rather than single-use plastic packaging, they are turning to alternatives such as biodegradable plastics or paper bags, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
7-Eleven convenience store chain targets to use paper bags at all outlets by 2030.
Another large convenience store chain, Lawson Inc., will also be looking at renewable bags to replace plastic bags.
Compared to foreign companies, however, Japanese manufacturers are deemed as late to the game.
Having said that, the move to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags will likely prompt companies in Japan to invest in developing new materials that are more environmentally-friendly.
At the international level, countries like China, Malaysia and the Philippines have also banned the import of plastic waste, which means developed countries have to deal with their own trash now.
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