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Environment

Japan to lead global push for ocean-friendly plastic

Tokyo teams with G-20 and Africa to promote biodegradable material

Plastic accounts for a large portion of the waste that washes up on a beach in Hawaii. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan looks to partner with the private sector to develop biodegradable plastic that causes little harm to the oceans, Nikkei has learned, as Tokyo encourages an environmental push both domestically and worldwide.

The proposal forms part of a campaign to rid the sea of plastic waste, and the overall plan will be presented Friday to cabinet members at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office.

Japan wants to focus on the burgeoning level of ocean plastic pollution during the Group of 20 gathering next month in Osaka. About 300 million tons of waste plastic are produced every year, the United Nations says, and estimates show that 8 million to 12 million tons end up in the oceans annually.

The Japanese plan calls for a public-private partnership to develop plastic material that creates minimal environmental impact on the oceans. Such material might dissolve in seawater, for example. This undertaking would include fishing gear, given that a survey by an environmental group found that fishing nets make up 46% of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which lies between Hawaii and California.

The government also intends to share the plastics plan with attendees of the Tokyo International Conference of African Development, set for late August in Yokohama.

This proposal goes in tandem with Tokyo's goal of recycling all plastic bottles. The state will support installing recycling boxes beside vending machines, and increase the frequency of collections. Pickup of plastic containers left on the ground will be conducted more often. Abe's government plans to offer incentives such as subsidies to get municipalities and other groups on board. Japan recycles plastic bottles at a greater percentage than in the United States or Europe.

Enforcement against pollution will grow stronger nationwide. Local governments organize a week of patrols annually that search for illegal dumping, and this activity will be expanded. Japan also will help emerging nations develop legal frameworks to combat plastic pollution, as well as train monitors in Southeast Asia.

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