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Asia Minute: Japan Cuts Back on Plastic

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It’s been almost two and a half months since Honolulu banned single-use plastic bags and plastic utensils. This month, Japan’s legislature took a step in the same direction—cutting back on plastic.

Starting next April, plastic utensils and straws will no longer be given to customers. As is the case now for plastic bags, there will be a charge—a sort of “plastic tax.”

Under the law just passed by Japan’s Diet—or national legislature—restaurants, hotels and stores can face fines of nearly US$5,000 for violating the measure.

Details are still being worked out—they’re expected by October—but lawmakers say the intent is to promote the use of biodegradable products.

It’s been nearly a year since Japanese stores have been charging for plastic bags. The country’s environment ministry says only about a third of shoppers now use plastic bags.

Many Japanese stores and companies have been cutting back on the over-packaging of items that is characteristic of shopping there.

But this is also not an area where Japan is a global leader.

Critics say more aggressive steps are needed to reach Japan’s goal announced earlier this year to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Plastic Waste Management Institute says the country produces nearly 10 million tons of plastic each year---with about 200,000 tons of that made up of disposable plastic spoons and straws.

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