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Asia Minute: Japan: Small Steps on Plastic Waste

Ben Mierement
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Plastic waste has become an environmental issue around the world, and it’s increasingly a political issue as well. That’s true in Japan, which has become the latest country to move to restrict the use of single-use plastic bags.

Japan has been slower than many countries to cut back on the use of plastic bags.

Leaders of government and industry have been meeting on the topic for some time. And on Friday a panel made up of members from both groups approved a plan to require stores to charge for plastic bags.

The policy change won’t take effect until next July, but it is a nudge in the direction of changing consumer behavior.

Jiji Press quoted one panel member as saying, “it’s aimed at prompting people to change their lifestyles and is therefore symbolic.”

There is not a specific price for the bags, that decision is up to each retailer, the overall goal is to encourage consumers to bring their own bags — which would be a big behavioral change in Japan.

The government had wanted the rules in place by April — so they would be in effect during next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo — but the panel agreed to give store owners more time to adjust.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the country wants to cut the amount of plastic waste it produces each year by 25% within the next decade.

According to the United Nations, Japan is responsible for more plastic packaging waste per capita than any other nation in the world – except for the United States.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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