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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 May 22 - 28  > Japan should squarely tackle plastic waste issue
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2019 May 22 - 28 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Japan should squarely tackle plastic waste issue

May 23, 2019

Akahata editorial

With the revision of the Basel Convention, which regulates cross-border movements of hazardous wastes, at the Conference of the Parties on May 10 in Switzerland, plastic waste will be listed in this UN treaty. The revision reflected the fact that ocean plastic pollution has been caused by the large amount of untreated plastic waste which is exported to developing countries in South East Asia and other regions across the globe. After the revised treaty takes effect in 2021, signatory nations will be required to dispose of plastic waste within their territories in principle and will be prohibited from exporting those wastes without securing proper consent from destination countries. Japan, which has long shipped a huge amount of plastic wastes abroad, should drastically review its policies on this issue.

Amid growing concern over ocean plastic pollution

Currently, 380 million tons of plastic products are produced annually and a half of the total is believed to be single-use plastics. An estimated eight million tons of plastic are discarded in the sea annually. It is said that if this situation remains unchanged, the total weight of plastic waste in the sea will surpass that of fish by 2050.

Many cases are reported in which sea animals died after inadvertently swallowing plastic bags and straws. There are reports that sea birds eat plastic products contaminated with toxic substances floating in the sea. Plastic particles smaller than five millimeters also known as micro plastic are often found inside fish and shellfish.

Plastic pollution is posing an increasingly serious threat to the ecosystem. Plastic debris-related problems, including ocean pollution, need to be tackled immediately in order to protect the future livability of the earth.

Japan produces the second largest amount of single-use plastic waste after the U.S., but it falls behind in efforts to deal with plastic waste problems. Japan generates nine million tons of plastic waste a year and exports one million tons of the waste to South East Asian countries.

At the end of 2017, China banned imports of plastic waste. Consequently, disposing of plastic waste in Japan is beyond the country's capacity, leading to a mountain of plastic wastes left in storage areas or illegally dumped. In particular, industrial waste which accounts for nearly 80% of total plastic wastes is not adequately regulated.

Without the implementation of prompt and effective measures, the regulations on exports this time will only worsen the situation.

The Abe government claims that it is now mapping out a "strategy for recycling of plastic resources" with a view to making a formal decision before the G20 Summit meeting scheduled for June in Osaka. The government also states that it seeks a 25% reduction in disposable plastic waste by 2030.

However, the process the government proposes is too abstract to actually implement effective measures.

For example, the government supports "waste heat recovery" as a main recycling method. This is a technology which uses heat coming from the incineration of plastic waste. Currently, Japan depends on thermal recycling for more than half of plastic waste disposal. The government itself admits that this, however, is a last resort. Thus, if continuing to depend on the last resort, Japan will reach its limit sooner or later.

In regard to marine plastic discharges, Japan should detect flaws in the existing system and should conduct thorough research and examination in order to take effective measures immediately.

Not to produce

In the world, more and more countries began banning the production, sale, and distribution of disposable plastic products. In Japan, in contrast, the government is leaving this issue to voluntary-efforts by plastic product manufacturing companies. The government, in its effort to reduce plastic waste, should consider measures to prevent unnecessary plastic goods from being made at the manufacturing stage. The way the economy and society promotes the mass production and mass consumption of plastic products should also be reviewed.

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