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Environment

Japan restaurant leader joins movement against single-use plastic

Skylark answers the call for greener alternatives

A food delivery person for Skylark Holdings. The company will begin shifting away from plastic bags, utensils and containers for takeout and deliveries next year. (Photo courtesy of Skylark Holdings)

TOKYO -- Japan's largest family restaurant operator will stop using plastic containers for takeout orders and deliveries in December, becoming the first big player here to do so as the world turns away from single-use plastics.

Despite the added costs, Skylark Holdings is acting amid growing customer and investor interest in environmental issues. The resulting jump in demand for biodegradable alternatives could also help push prices down.

Skylark, whose chains include Gusto and Jonathan's, will start by swapping out petroleum-derived plastic bags for biologically derived alternatives at 90% or so of its 3,000-plus locations nationwide. It will switch utensils in February and food containers by mid-2020.

Moving to biomass bags alone will help Skylark shrink its annual carbon footprint by roughly 60% to 180 tons.

The group saw a 30% jump in takeout and a 15% increase in deliveries last year, driving up its use of single-use plastics. These orders now account for around 10% of total revenue.

Bioplastics tend to be more expensive than conventional plastics. Bioplastic bags in particular cost more than twice as much as regular plastic ones, and Skylark is expected to spend millions of dollars on the switch.

Other industry players are also working to cut plastic consumption. Starbucks plans to stop using plastic straws by 2020. Its Japanese unit alone has used an annual 200 million or so, which it will completely switch to paper alternatives by summer.

Suntory Holdings aims to recycle 100% of its plastic bottles by 2030.

The Japanese government is taking action as well. Plastic bags will carry a mandatory fee at retail stores starting in July, before the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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