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Business trends

Japan makes ecobags greener and prettier

Some consumers spare no expense to help the environment while looking stylish

PLECO's eco bags aren't just pretty, they are also bio-degradable. (Photo by Keiichiro Sato)

TOKYO -- A month has passed since Japan started charging fees for plastic shopping bags at stores on July 1. People started to realize that single-use shopping bags are not good for the environment as they are easily forgotten and thrown away. Some consumers are willing to pay for reusable bags made of greener materials or that tell a story they can relate to.

"I have felt uncomfortable about 'eco' bags made of non-biodegradable materials," said Kyoko Mitobe of Fringe, which sells handmade products crafted with natural ones.

Mitobe's reusable bags made of leftover cotton and linen fabric gained popularity on minne, a shopping site for handmade products, due to the beauty of the designs that emerge at random through the use of various scraps of fabric. The products sell for 700 yen ($6.60).

Mitobe's reusable bags are eco-friendly in the true sense because they are made of leftover materials. She receives many requests for custom-made reusable bags, although the bags can only be made with fabric scraps.

Reusable bags made of greener materials have also won the hearts of customers at Takashimaya Nihombashi department store. Kna plus' PLECO reusable bags are made of corn-based polylactic acid, a material that is compostable and emits no toxic fumes when burned. And the pleated bags are so fashionable that they go well with any kind of clothing.

"It seems that the term 'compostable' is attractive to environmentally conscious young people," said a company spokesperson. The bags go for between 1,980 yen and 3,960 yen, and can hold up to 10 kg.

And for those who tend to forget to bring shopping bags when going out or make an unplanned stop at a grocery or convenience store, "shopping bag holders" are a welcome solution.

Hiroko Hayakawa, left, and Junko Yamamoto, are twin sisters who create handmade goods including shopping bag holders. 

Hiroko Hayakawa and Junko Yamamoto are 53-year-old twin sisters and creators of handmade products who run miscellaneous goods brand H&J. Both residents of Tokyo's Katsushika Ward, their works are popular and the women have garnered 20,000 followers on the minne site.

They came up with various types of bags for holding plastic shopping bags, including a simple one that men who stop by convenience stores after work wouldn't mind attaching to their own briefcase or bag. There are about 20 types of shopping bag holders, including some that can fit in several bags.

The pair started making the holders after seeing their mother carrying shopping bags. They came up with holder designs that allow people to take out the bags easily. They started offering the holders last month and sell more than 10 a day.

Many men often get messages on popular social media app Line from their wives to pick up items such as milk and bread on the way home after taking their kids to play in parks, but very few of them carry reusable bags when going out. Now that plastic bags aren't free, the men end up paying for plastic bags every time they go out.

UNLOCK TOKYO's MUZOSA & Nylon Ultralight Bags were created to respond to the problem. Business card-sized pouches can carry a reusable bag, money and keys.

The company last December raised 3.75 million yen against its 100,000 yen target on crowdfunding site Makuake. MUZOSA & Nylon Ultralight Bags are available at Tokyo's Seibu Ikebukuro department store and other locations, but are only available on back order. 

MUZOSA, shown here, allows for carrying ecobags, keys and change in one small pouch. 

"Many customers buy our reusable bags after hearing of their good reputation from their partners," said Daisuke Tsuzuku, a representative for UNLOCK TOKYO.

Reusable bags made by U.S. surf-related apparel brand Ocean Pacific are also popular with male shoppers ranging in age from their teens to their 50s. Its pop-printed bags are suitable for beaches as well as on the street. They are easy to roll up or fold and can be fit into the bottom of backpacks and other bags. Each one costs 2,000 yen, excluding tax.

Ecobags by Ocean Pacific are popular with men. (Photo by Keiichiro Sato)

There are also some luxury reusable bags. Italist's hand-knitted mesh versions available at Takashimaya's Season Style Lab can be rolled up into palm-size. Lace thread bags look fragile but can hold up to 5 kg of rice.

The bags were inspired by the net bag that the designer's mother used 50 years ago. They go for 11,000 yen, excluding tax, but Italist touts them as value for money as each one takes 10 hours to make and can be used for a long time. The bags come in four colors, including khaki and black.

Ecobags by Italist costs 11,000 yen each but some feel it's worth paying for them. 

Reusable shopping bags aimed at reducing plastic waste are not only designed for putting stuff in but also for showing the person's stance toward the environment. 

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