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Environment

Plastic bag fees to be mandatory for Japanese retailers

Country under pressure to cut heavy plastic consumption

Japan is among the world's largest consumers of disposable plastics. (Photo by Tsuyoshi Tamehiro)

TOKYO -- Japan is moving to require retailers to charge for disposable plastic bags amid international efforts to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the world's seas.

Retailers such as supermarkets and convenience stores would be required to charge a few cents per bag.

With northern Europe, France and China either charging for or banning plastic bags, Japan faces pressure to take action. The country ranks second in the world after the U.S. in per-capita generation of disposable plastic waste.

The Environment Ministry will propose the idea of a mandatory fee to its policy advisory committee on Friday. The existing law on package material recycling may be updated to incorporate the new rule.

Whether to charge for plastic bags is currently left up to retailers. Many supermarkets have charged for the bags since the 2000s. At stores of Seven & i Holdings unit Ito-Yokado, the charge is 2 yen (2 cents) per bag.

According to the Japan Chain Stores Association, which encourages its members to cut down on plastic bag use, around 53% of shoppers decline bags at the register. The Japan Franchise Association, which includes convenience stores, has not been as proactive, citing concerns about hygiene.

Convenience stores account for about 30% of the estimated 45 billion disposable plastic bags handed out at shop registers every year in Japan.

Details of the new regulation have yet to be hammered out. Discussions involving other government agencies, like the economy and agriculture ministries, will begin in April at the earliest. The Environment Ministry aims to implement the rule in fiscal 2020.

The Japanese government will by March come up with a strategy for reducing the use of disposable plastics. The Environment Ministry will insert language targeting a 25% reduction by 2030.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump singled out Japan and China when criticizing dumping of garbage into oceans. 

"Every year, over 8 million tons of garbage is dumped into our beautiful oceans by many countries of the world. That includes China, that includes Japan, that includes many, many countries," Trump said. He said a "vast," "tremendous" and "unthinkable" amount of garbage is floating to America's West coast, causing a "very unfair situation" as the U.S. is charged with cleaning it up.

Trump said he has told most of the foreign governments concerned to address the problem.

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