Waste Legislation

Japan to limit business use of select plastic utensils

A new law requires business operators to switch to biodegradable plastic alternatives or be prepared to charge customers for the use of single-use plastic items.

A new law requires business operators to switch to biodegradable plastic alternatives or be prepared to charge customers for the use of single-use plastic items.

Retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, dry cleaners, laundries and pizza delivery companies will be asked to comply with the new regulations set to come into force by next April.

The series of disposable plastic utensils to be gradually phased out include knives, forks, combs, shower caps and clothes hangers.

Businesses that produce more than 5 tons of the specified items will be required to reduce their output.

The new legislation is a way to oblige businesses to contribute to the country’s pledge to double its recycling rate by 2030.

Business owners who refuse to comply with the new regulations may be fined up to 500,000 yen ($4,500) for repeated violations.

The bill has not been completely fleshed out but will entail guidelines for manufacturers on designing more sustainable plastic products.

Select restaurant chains have already voiced their opposition to the single-use plastic ordinances mandated by the new law, claiming that their economic survival during the pandemic is dependent on supplying increased takeaway orders that naturally come with free, disposable cutlery.

The Japanese Environment Ministry and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will issue final ordinances this fall after a round of public consultation.

Single-use plastics still proliferate in Japan, with retailers used to, for example, placing fresh fruit such as apples in styrofoam sleeves or bagging separate food and drinks items in separate plastic carrier bags. This has much to do with the local perception that plastic wrapped products are both cleaner, safer as well as more high-end, an idea that similarly proliferates in Thailand, another Asian country to come under the spotlight for engendering a plastic throwaway society.

At 84%, Japan boasts a high recycling rate, yet this appears irrelevant in the face of the fact that 70% of plastic waste treated is converted into energy, something that only serves to amplify carbon emissions. The options outside of recycling that the country resorts to-exemplified by waste dumping on landfills or incineration- have an equally negative environmental impact.