Charging for plastic bags a major step


With so many convenient plastic products available in our daily life, discarding such waste has become a global issue. Efforts should be made to reduce as much as possible the amount of plastic consumed.

Starting Wednesday, plastic shopping bags in Japan now cost money in principle. These bags, which customers have taken for granted they would get for free when shopping at supermarkets and convenience stores, have to be purchased for about ¥2 to ¥5 (0.019 to 0.047 US cents) each. This move can be described as a major step in the history of environmental measures.

It has not been stipulated how companies should use the money collected from charging for plastic shopping bags, but some are applying it to activities to protect the environment. It is important for businesses to promote their position in this regard, to gain understanding from customers.

Charging for plastic shopping bags has been prompted by the serious level of marine pollution. Plastic waste does not decay, and is washed ashore around the world. It has also been discovered in the stomachs of whales and seabirds. There are further concerns over what impact microplastics – very small fragments of plastic broken down by waves and sunlight – will have on the ecosystem.

European countries have already imposed some regulations on plastic shopping bags. In Japan, shops in Toyama and Yamanashi prefectures became pioneers in 2008 in charging for these bags. This policy later spread to other prefectures and municipalities, and some supermarket chains and other businesses started charging for such bags on their own.

Bags such as those containing 25 per cent or more of biomass, which includes plant-derived materials, are not subject to mandatory charges because they are deemed to have less impact on the environment.

Yoshinoya Co, the operator of a gyudon beef-on-rice bowl restaurant chain, and McDonald’s Co (Japan), among other companies, will reportedly continue to offer plastic bags free of charge by changing their materials. Their aim is to avoid confusion at the counter and allow staff to serve customers as efficiently as possible.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, some consumers prefer using plastic shopping bags to those they bring on their own for hygiene reasons. Hopefully companies will consider appropriate measures depending on their type of business and the circumstances of their stores.

Plastic waste is a deep-rooted issue, as shopping bags account only for about two per cent of the total amount discarded. It is surely important to recognise that charging for plastic shopping bags is only a part of what must be done regarding this issue.

It is essential to further promote, for example, efforts to reduce the amount of plastic used in food packages, containers, bottles, home appliances and other items, as well as to recycle this material.

In the long term, it will be necessary to develop technology that enables the low-cost production of plastic that easily breaks down and has no environmental impact.

Plastic is made from petroleum. It should not be forgotten that incinerating plastic releases carbon dioxide and causes global warming.

Japan ranks second in the world after the US in terms of the volume of plastic waste per capita. Hopefully mandatory charges for plastic shopping bags will serve as an opportunity to review our plastic-dependent lifestyle.

THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK