EDITORIAL: Biting new law should spur plastic waste reduction

A new law that came into force on April 1 to reduce plastic waste and promote recycling should be an opportunity for consumers to think about ways to reduce their use of plastic products to save resources and the environment.

A central piece of the legislation is a provision requiring companies that supply large quantities of single-use plastic products, such as convenience stores, supermarkets, hotels and laundries, to reduce those supplies.

The requirement covers 12 types of products, including forks, straws, toothbrushes, safety razors and coat hangers.

Two years ago, Japan introduced a mandatory fee for each plastic bag.

While shopping bags represent only a few percent of all plastic waste in the country, the measure has led to a noticeable change in consumer behavior.

For example, the number of shoppers carrying their own bags has increased.

The new law imposes no such flat fee on single-use plastic products and gives businesses a number of options to choose from.

For example, companies can ask customers if they want to use plastic products; offer reward points to those who refuse; review the materials they use or reduce the weight of plastic; and opt for reusable products.

Many companies are said to be considering avoiding the fee option due to concerns about negative effects on sales.

It is also understandable that some companies, such as small supermarkets, are reluctant to change the materials used due to the additional costs.

Hopefully, however, other alternatives, such as giving customers the option not to use plastic products and rewarding customers if they do not receive them, will lead to a steady decline in the consumption of single-use plastic products.

We urge consumers to think more carefully if they really need plastic products.

The Ministry of the Environment must monitor the specific measures taken by companies and assess their effectiveness. It should encourage more to be done to reduce plastic waste by sharing examples of instructive efforts with businesses.

We suggest that the ministry consider adopting stronger measures, such as the imposition of a mandatory fee, if the new law turns out to be less effective than it is.

It is also essential to promote the separate collection and recycling of plastic waste.

Plastic bottles and packaging have already been the subject of a legally obligatory separate collection of plastic waste.

The new law requires local governments to “make efforts” to collect many other types of plastic waste for recycling.

While the central government will subsidize part of the costs of the new requirement, local governments will be forced to bear the rest of the additional costs.

It will also be a big challenge to ensure that consumers understand and comply with the new separate collection rules.

Central and local governments should make concerted efforts to enlist the cooperation of the public.

In this regard, policy efforts should be intensified to reduce plastic waste and promote recycling to ensure the reduction of the amount of waste collected for incineration, categorized as “energy recovery”, which contributes to change climatic.

A Cabinet Office survey found that many people do not see the need to use small containers for different dishes in bento boxes or to use cushioning materials in packaging for products bought online and delivered to residence.

The government has set targets to reduce single-use plastic products by 25% by 2030 and reuse or recycle 60% of plastic packaging. Achieving objectives requires the development of a precise and viable progress schedule.

–Asahi Shimbun, April 2

Bryce K. Locke