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All retailers in Japan required to charge fee for plastic bags from July 1

A customer is seen putting purchased goods in a reusable bag at a supermarket in the central Japan city of Toyama on June 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Shun Morino)
This image provided by Seven-Eleven Japan Co. shows the types of plastic bags that will be charged for at its outlets.

TOKYO -- All retail shops across Japan will be required to charge a fee for plastic shopping bags from July 1 as part of a government initiative to reduce plastic waste that is seriously affecting the oceanic ecosystem.

Nationwide retail outlets, including supermarkets, convenience stores, and department stores, will be required to charge for plastic bags as a general rule. The new policy aims to promote the reduction of plastic waste, which flows into the ocean and has a severe impact on the ecosystem. Japan's Environment Ministry is calling for consumers to use their own reusable bags while setting a goal of raising the proportion of customers who decline receiving plastic bags when purchasing products from the current 30% to 60%.

Charges for disposable plastic bags that have loops or handles for holding them have been made obligatory under the new policy. However, bags that incorporate bioplastic that uses plant-derived matter as its raw material and have little adverse impact on the environment, as well as marine biodegradable plastic that can be easily decomposed, or plastic bags that are durable with a thickness of 0.05 millimeters or more are excluded from charges. For the time being, bags using bioplastic must incorporate at least 25% of the material for it to qualify as being exempt from charges. Thin plastic roll bags used for holding fresh food are also exempt from the policy.

The prices of shopping bags will be determined by each retailer on their own. Many companies set prices that vary depending on the plastic bags' size, and one bag generally costs less than 10 yen. While major supermarkets like Aeon Retail Co. have already taken the lead to charge for shopping bags, the three convenience store giants of Seven-Eleven Japan Co., FamilyMart Co., and Lawson Inc. will also charge fees for plastic bags from July 1.

Meanwhile, some eatery operators, such as KFC Holdings Japan Ltd. and beef bowl restaurant Yoshinoya Co., continue to provide plastic bags incorporating bioplastic free of charge.

Efforts to move away from plastic usage and shift to different materials like paper have also been accelerating. Sportswear manufacturer Adidas Japan began charging for paper bags in April. Department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. will also stop offering plastic shopping bags for free, and charge for paper bags at its directly managed food sections in July. Under the Act on the Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling of Containers and Packaging, which stipulates the plastic bag policy, firms that annually use 50 metric tons or more of packaging and containers made of plastic and other materials are required to report their efforts on reducing plastic waste per fiscal year. Penalty regulations, such as the disclosure of offending company names and fines, have also been included if inappropriate actions are observed, such as continuing to provide plastic bags for free.

(Japanese original by Toshiyuki Suzuki, Science & Environment News Department)

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