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The Asahi Shimbun/2019/10/9 14:10

Banning free plastic bags a good step toward new lifestyle

A government proposal, put to a panel of experts last month, aims to ban the free distribution of single-use plastic shopping bags at supermarkets, convenience stores and all retail outlets in April next year. The move would require amending ministerial ordinances under the Containers and Packaging Recycling Law.
We hope this proposal will represent Japan’s first firm commitment to ending society’s excessive reliance on single-use plastic products.
Consumers will have to be reminded to bring their own shopping bags to stores. And retailers need to consider offering paper bags or those made of more eco-friendly materials.
Japan ranks second in the world, after the United States, in the amount of per-capita generation of single-use plastic trash.
Plastic waste entering the world’s oceans has become a grave problem, and the government in May compiled a plastic resources recycling strategy that aims to reduce the volume generated by Japan by 25 percent by 2030.
One of the measures for attaining that reduction goal is to make shoppers pay for single-use plastic bags.
Charging a price for those bags had been proposed in the past, but it never materialized due to stiff opposition from convenience stores and other retailers.
This time, too, there are calls for postponement, the main reason being that retailers need more time to prepare. But we hope they understand the urgency of Japan’s situation and will agree to work together with the government.
How much to charge per bag will be the key.
According to the government proposal, it is up to each retailer to decide the price.
At most supermarkets where the bags are no longer free, the per-unit price is between 2 yen (about 2 cents) and 5 yen. But we believe the price could be much higher, given that the whole purpose is to get more shoppers to reject the bags. The prices in other countries may be worth consulting.
Distributing those bags for free is illegal in a good number of nations. In fact, the act of distribution itself is forbidden in more than 40 nations.
By comparison, the Japanese government’s proposal is still way too tame, and it may well come under stricter regulatory reviews in the future.
One thing we should bear in mind is that even if Japan eventually weans itself of single-use plastic shopping bags, that alone will bring the nation nowhere close to resolving the real problem caused by plastic waste.
Plastic shopping bags do not even make up 10 percent of the 9 million tons of plastic trash produced in Japan per year.
In our daily lives, we are swamped with all sorts of single-use plastic products, such as containers for food and sundries, plastic tableware, various packaging materials, and so on. To reduce them, not only do businesses need to develop alternative products and review their current practices, but consumers, too, must be prepared to live with certain inconveniences.
In that sense, the significance of putting a price on throwaway plastic shopping bags is by no means small. We should see this as an opportunity for changing our awareness and reviewing our overall lifestyle.
As the Group of 20 host nation in June, Japan brokered an international agreement to work toward zero plastic waste entering the world’s oceans by 2050.
The government, industry and the public should all remind themselves of this responsibility shouldered by the nation, and strive to reduce plastic trash.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 8




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