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Environment Ministry compiles targets to combat single-use plastic pollution

People carrying plastic shopping bags cross a street in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward in this file photo. (Mainichi/Yohei Koide)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of the Environment has for the first time specified numerical targets on reducing single-use plastics, aiming for a 25 percent reduction by 2030 through such measures as requiring retailers to charge for plastic grocery bags.

The targets were included in a preliminary draft of a strategy for recycling and reusing plastic products, which the ministry submitted to the Central Environment Council on Oct. 19.

In addition to a reduction of single-use plastics, the draft specifies the introduction of 2 million tons per year of animal and plant-derived biomass plastic by 2030 -- about 50 times the current amount. It also sets forth a plan to recycle or reuse 60 percent of all plastic containers by 2030 and to effectively use 100 percent of such plastic products by 2035, partly by burning plastic waste to produce thermal power.

Subcommittee members presented no clear objections to the draft, and the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) commented, "It sets a high bar, but we'll cooperate." At the same time, there were numerous opinions that the strategy should specify that plastic waste "should not be incinerated without careful consideration," as this would add to carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

Japan was met with harsh criticism from environmental non-government organizations for refusing to endorse the Ocean Plastics Charter at the G7 Summit this past June. For this reason, the Ministry of the Environment intended to incorporate numerical targets in the strategy that matched or surpassed the goals in the Ocean Plastics Charter.

(Japanese original by Kazuhiro Igarashi, Science & Environment News Department)

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