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Fact check: Tweet falsely claims that Japan science council was behind plastic bag fees

A screenshot of YouTuber Kazuya's tweet that made the false accusation that the Science Council of Japan proposed to charge fees for plastic shopping bags is shown here.

TOKYO -- A tweet falsely claiming that the Science Council of Japan proposed charging fees for plastic shopping bags has gone viral after a YouTuber apparently misconstrued parts of a former council president's contribution to a newspaper.

    The said tweet has gained several thousand "likes," while it has also been shared in videos, some of which have gained several hundred thousand views. The false claim was made based on the ex-president's statement that the science council's proposal was "one contributing factor" behind the move to charge for shopping bags. Although the Science Council of Japan had advised in the past to reduce plastic waste as a whole, there is no such fact that the body made proposals or expressed views on charging fees for plastic bags.

    The problematic tweet was posted on Oct. 8 by YouTuber Kazuya, who has 740,000 subscribers. The tweet cited an entry in the Tokyo Shimbun daily contributed by Takashi Onishi, former president of the Science Council of Japan, and said, "Being proud of having proposed shopping bag charges misses the whole point. All things considered, can't we do without the Science Council of Japan?" The post was retweeted over 1,500 times, and the number of "likes" had reached nearly 6,000 as of Oct. 13.

    In the reply section, there were comments such as "Every one of you store owners suffering from the plastic bag fees and shoppers trying to make ends meet need to gang up against the members of the Science Council of Japan."

    Yoichi Takahashi, professor at Kaetsu University, also posted a tweet regarding the same article on Oct. 8, which read, "As expected, the absurd policy measure of charging fees for shopping bags was proposed by the science council. Bragging about this is so fitting for the science council that exposes its own incompetence." This tweet had gained over 6,500 retweets and some 18,000 "likes" by Oct. 13. Furthermore, on Oct. 8, Tsukasa Jonen, a commentator on economics, posted a video on YouTube with the title, "Hyahaa! 'We proposed charging fees for shopping bags!' The accomplishment boasted by the former president of the Science Council of Japan," which had been viewed over 360,000 times through Oct. 13.

    When examining the original article, it contained the subheading, "Science council's proposal also contributing factor behind shopping bag fees." Former council president Onishi stated in the contribution, "Campaigns urging major cutbacks on plastic usage contributed to moves for charging fees for plastic shopping bags as well as shoppers bringing their own reusable bags. One contributing factor in this was the proposal set forth by the science council hand in hand with science councils overseas."

    Although the contribution includes the words, "one contributing factor," references to the science council having proposed to charge a fee for shopping bags cannot be found anywhere.

    The Mainichi Shimbun contacted former council president Onishi to verify the facts. It was revealed that this statement in the contribution was referring to the joint statement announced in May 2015 by the G7 Science Academies, which comprise national science academies from around the world, including the Science Council of Japan. This joint statement called for reducing oceanic pollution resulting from human activity and bolstering regulations, while explaining that plastic waste is negatively impacting the marine ecosystem. However, it does not mention anything about charging fees for shopping bags.

    Onishi commented, "The science council has pushed for reducing plastic waste, but has never advised to charge fees for shopping bags. In the article, I stated that it created an opportunity for the movement to tackle plastic waste to gather momentum." The subheading, "Science council's proposal also contributing factor behind shopping bag charges," was apparently devised by the Tokyo Shimbun, and it is possible that this title led to the misunderstanding that the science council itself had proposed the shopping bag charges, and was subsequently spread while being taken out of context. However, it is also notable that YouTuber Kazuya's tweet had omitted the words, "contributing factor," and was an inaccurate citation.

    According to the Ministry of the Environment, official discussions on the plastic bag policy was commenced by the Central Environment Council, an advisory council to the environment minister, in August 2018, and a report specifying charging fees for shopping bags was submitted in March 2019. In response, the Japanese government revised ministerial ordinances on the Act on the Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling of Containers and Packaging in December 2019, and the policy was implemented from July this year. Debate on making charges for plastic bags mandatory was also held when the law underwent revision in 2006.

    A representative of the Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy Division of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry commented, "The plastic bag fee policy is a topic that had originally been up for debate for over 10 years. We have moved forward with it while listening to the opinions of experts in various fields. It's not the case that we made the decision because there was a recommendation by the science council or the G-Science Academies."

    (Japanese original by Yukako Ono, Integrated Digital News Center)

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