When you go to Japan for the first time, what generally shocks you the most about the garbage is the meticulous sorting given to it. There are indeed different collection days for combustible waste, non-combustible waste, glass bottles and cans, plastic bottles but also hazardous waste such as light bulbs or batteries. So it would be legitimate to say that Japan is a country to take as an example in terms of ecology, but is this really the case?
Exemplary PET sorting but excessive overpackaging
It is undeniable that Japan is particularly scrupulous when it comes to recycling its PET (polyethylene terephthalate ) bottles; we find this assertion everywhere on the zero waste blogs which tackle the subject of the country of the rising sun. For example, their quality is so pure that the jerseys of the Barcelona and Manchester City football teams are made from these same bottles collected in Japanese landfills.
These packaging made from PET like bottles can also be recycled to make new bottles but also other types of industrial materials such as fibers for sleeping bags, winter coats or even car parts. In 2014, 93.5% of PET bottles distributed nationwide were recycled, according to the PET Bottle Recycling Council.
Although Japan sorts its bottles almost religiously, one detail quickly stains its reputation as an ecologist: overpackaging . We find plastic absolutely everywhere to wrap everything and anything in the supermarket or at the bakery. So this raises the following question: is Japan an environmentalist country?
The end of plastic bags planned in Japan?
In 2016, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced that it wanted to charge all customers an additional price for used plastic bags that were not required. This decision was intended, among other things, to silence critics who accused politicians of being influenced by powerful plastic bag producing companies. However, when we take stock we can only see that plastic bags are still present today in unreasonable quantities in all grocery stores.
An effort has however been made on the side of the large supermarket chains but the small businesses are afraid of losing many customers on this measure will see the light of day in the coming years, which is not impossible when we listen to what was said Yasuo Furusawa, director of sustainable materials management at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, told the Nikkei Asian Review: "Free bags should be banned nationwide." before adding “The role of the local store is changing. They now offer more expensive items like meals and bento, so that’s a tough question.”
Although this measure seems obvious from an ecological point of view, it is therefore not so simple to implement because it risks sinking many local businesses. In addition, this excessive consumption of plastic bags is strongly anchored in Japanese customs. On average, a Japanese person consumes nearly 200 plastic bags per year .
Although until now the ban on plastic bags remains uncertain, this environmental initiative has powerful support in none other than the Yuriko Koike government. Koike served as environment minister from 2003 to 2006, during which time she promoted the "Cool Biz" campaign. This allowed workers to dress casually during the summer, saving energy by reducing the need for air conditioning.
To replace plastic, the government Yuriko Koike is proposing a traditional Japanese fabric that would be used to wrap and transport objects, thus not being single-use packaging. This fabric would be made with a fiber derived from recycled PET bottles.
Here's what Koike had to say about it: "The furoshiki is so practical that you can pack almost anything in it, no matter its size or shape, with a little ingenuity by simply folding it in the right way. It is much better than the plastic bags you get at the supermarket or wrapping paper, because it is very durable, reusable and versatile.
She also stressed that the fabric was a symbol of Japanese culture and that it emphasized taking better care of your merchandise than with a simple plastic bag and thus avoiding waste.
What is the real threat of so much plastic?
Even with such a large quantity of plastic bags consumed, Japan being rather a pioneer country in terms of waste sorting, it is legitimate to wonder why bags, more than bottles for example, cannot can't they be recycled correctly?
Bags are actually very difficult, if not impossible, to recycle correctly in the same way as many plastic toys. This is due to the fact that they are made from different plastics with different melting points, unlike PET bottles which are made with an easily recyclable plastic resin.
Plastic bags can be burned if not recycled, but many cities do not take the initiative to pay these costs and leave them abandoned in rivers which themselves carry them into streams and then the oceans. thus slowly destroying the marine fauna and flora.
Beyond the ecological aspect, reducing plastic bags would even be beneficial from a financial point of view. Three of the most widely used plastics are more expensive than before due to rising crude oil prices and stricter environmental regulations imposed on factories in China. However, the most important reason that should push Japan to reduce its consumption of plastic bags remains to erase its image of a culture of waste that it has built up over the last few years.
To conclude, Japan is a fairly specific country from an ecological point of view in the sense that it is ahead on certain points, notably waste sorting, but remains profoundly lacking in terms of reducing its waste. plastics. For comparison, France has already eliminated the sale of single-use plastic products in supermarkets such as straws or cups.
Finally, if you also want to obtain ecological bags of very good quality, we recommend with your eyes closed a cork bag from the Liège Évasion brand which offers several different styles of bags which all exude good humor and deep work of crafts which is behind it. Here is an overview of some of their products: