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Japan NPO ends its 10-year effort of collecting bottle caps to donate vaccines to children

This photo provided by the nonprofit organization Genki Project shows members of the organization and high school volunteers sorting plastic bottle caps in the town of Bihoro, Hokkaido Prefecture.

KITAMI, Hokkaido -- A Japanese nonprofit organization's project to collect plastic bottle caps and donate the money raised from recycling them to a fund dedicated to providing vaccines to children worldwide is set to end due to tightened rules on plastic waste.

    The NPO "Genki Project," based in the town of Bihoro in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, decided to end its donation project, which has continued for some 10 years, in June. Domestic regulations on plastic waste have become stricter following amendments to the Basel Convention, which came into effect in January. The NPO estimated that it would incur huge deficits after a recycling contractor informed the organization that it intended to cut the amount it would pay for the bottle caps to about a third of the original fee over concerns about rising recycling costs. It is feared that similar donation activities will also be suspended.

    The NPO was established in 2010, with its "eco cap project" raising money from recycled bottle caps to provide vaccines to children of developing countries at its core. The organization has collected bottle caps from elementary and junior high schools and companies in and outside Bihoro, and sold them to a recycler in the suburbs of Hokkaido's capital city of Sapporo. It has then donated the profits to Japan Committee, Vaccines for the World's Children (JCV), a certified NPO based in Tokyo's Minato Ward.

    JCV partners with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and provides vaccines to children around the world. It calls for donations on its website, pointing out, "Polio vaccines cost only 20 yen, and the lives of five children can be protected for 100 yen." Genki Project has collected a total of 25.29 million bottle caps, or about 31,000 metric tons' worth, over the decade ending in 2020, and has secured vaccines for 31,621 individuals as a result.

    However, a sudden change to the organization's activities came after the Jan. 1 implementation of revisions to the Basel Convention, which regulates imports and exports of plastic waste that are difficult to recycle. In the wake of amendments to the international agreement, Japan's Environment Ministry implemented regulations stating that plastic waste with food crumbs, oil, or mud attached, as well as objects that have not been cut or grinded upon disposal, cannot be exported to other countries without their consent. The recycling business accordingly suggested that the NPO lower its fee to about a third of the existing price, as costs will increase if it is to comply with the updated Environment Ministry standards.

    So far, Genki Project has managed to press on with its activities with the help of donations from supporting members. However, the organization decided to bring its efforts to a close after it estimated that its deficits would nearly double when factoring in expenses for transporting the bottle caps, among other costs.

    Hiroyuki Miyata, chairman of Genki Project, commented, "The activities were continued in the hope that we could spread awareness on recycling. Although they are coming to a reluctant end, I think that our efforts have contributed to educating children (who cooperated with the project) about the environment."

    Japan, which is a large exporter of plastic waste on par with the United States and Germany, exported 1.43 million metric tons of plastic garbage in 2017. Following China's measure to ban imports of plastic waste and other developments, Japan's Environment Ministry has become wary of waste being retained within the country. The cessation of the endeavors by Genki Project has emerged within this larger framework of the national government rushing to arrange a domestic structure for recycling waste.

    "There may be other bottle caps that have nowhere to go. I'd like for the national government and administrative bodies to think about ways to create an environment that make it easier to continue recycling efforts, so that people's awareness which has managed to gradually spread will not regress," said Miyata.

    (Japanese original by Takeshi Honda, Hokkaido News Department)

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