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Schoolkids to receive Japan's first seawater-degradable plastic shopping bags

Mayor Masanori Okuzuka, right, is seen receiving Japan's first marine biodegradable bags while standing next to Director Hiroshi Naka of the Nakatsu machi-zukuri council, in the city of Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture, on April 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Katsuyuki Miyamoto)

NAKATSU, Oita -- A local businesses association in this city in southwest Japan has presented the mayor with 23,000 plastic bags that can biodegrade in seawater, which are set to be distributed to local students.

    The bags, presented to Mayor Masanori Okuzuka by the Nakatsu machi-zukuri council, each measure 50 centimeters long and 26 centimeters wide. They are made from plant-based materials that marine organisms can break down, and after about a year, 90% of their content will have been broken down into water and carbon dioxide.

    The council says it is the first time ever in Japan for biodegradable plastic bags like these to be introduced and distributed. Their manufacturer, Nagoya-based firm Kiracs Co., has used the material to make refuse bags for events, but it is reportedly the first the company has made plastic shopping bags.

    To encourage children's appreciation of environmental issues, three of the bags each will be given to every student in the city's 31 elementary and junior high schools, and 50 each to the schools themselves.

    With the council unable to engage in initiatives to the extent it would have liked amid the coronavirus pandemic, it turned its attention to the borderless issue of marine pollution by plastic waste. Although the bags are expensive when compared to the kind of products available up until now, officials decided to order and distribute them in the hope that they would serve as an opportunity for households to think about how to reduce waste and how they could recycle.

    Among the council's members, 50 bags each will be distributed -- a total of 17,650 bags -- free of charge. To try to encourage similar behavior across the country, the council has also ordered another 19,000 in addition to those it is freely distributing. Three supermarkets in the city will be selling them for 10 yen (about 10 cents) apiece.

    (Japanese original by Katsuyuki Miyamoto, Usa Local Bureau)

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