Mandatory charges for plastic bags important step toward reducing waste

The Yomiuri ShimbunEnvironmental pollution from plastic waste is an increasingly visible problem. Even if it is difficult to halt the use of plastic products overnight, efforts must be made to steadily reduce the volume of plastic waste produced in our daily lives.

The Environment Ministry has compiled a draft of the plastic resources recycling strategy. The draft sets a numerical target for reducing the use of disposable plastic containers, among other goals.

Plastics are synthetic resins made mainly from oil. They are light and have superior durability, but they do not easily decompose in the natural world, thus posing a problem in terms of environmental conservation. Plastic waste is accumulating in the sea, and by one estimate, its weight will exceed that of fish by 2050.

Japan ranks second globally after the United States in terms of the volume of single-use plastic containers discarded per capita, including plastic bags and delicatessen containers at supermarkets. In the current circumstances, in which there are no available materials to replace plastic, it is essential to refrain from its use as much as possible.

The pillar of the draft strategy is to make it mandatory to charge for plastic bags at supermarkets and convenience stores. Restrictive measures, including charging for or banning the use of plastic bags at such places, have already been introduced by more than 60 countries.

Plastic bags account for a meager 1 percent or so of the total domestic use of plastics. Even so, it can be said that a shift to charging for them is symbolic as a countermeasure against plastic waste, because these bags are a product familiar to each household.

Enhance public awareness

By taking advantage of the adoption of this system, it is imperative to enhance awareness of reducing plastic waste.

According to the ministry, the charging system has already been introduced at many supermarkets across cities, wards, towns and villages eager to take measures to deal with plastic bags. In contrast, however, almost no progress has been made in having convenience stores adopt the system.

Behind this is the fact that there are fewer customers at convenience stores who bring shopping bags along with them, compared with those going to supermarkets. Many convenience store customers bring home cold drinks and hot bento box meals in different bags, thus enhancing the demand for plastic bags. There is concern that if such bags are charged, customers will switch to other stores where free bags are available.

To make the charging of plastic bags take root at convenience stores, across-the-board mandatory implementation of the system could be a realistic option.

Reducing the consumption of plastic bottles is also important. China and some Southeast Asian countries have begun to restrict imports of waste plastics for environmental reasons. Among Japanese waste plastic dealers who have lost their foreign outlets for exports, there has been an increasing number of cases in which the disposal of waste plastics has fallen behind due to a sharp increase in inventory.

It is necessary to further ramp up the domestic recycling rate for waste plastics.

Switching from plastic containers to paper boxes is another effective measure. If more people carry a water flask around, too, it will lead to curbing the use of plastic bottles.

To halt environmental destruction, it is indispensable to move toward lowering the prices of biodegradable plastics that decompose in the natural environment.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 3, 2013)Speech


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