Stores in Japan to be Required to Charge for Plastic Shopping Bags Starting July 2020

Starting on July 1, 2020, all retailers in Japan, including supermarkets and convenience stores will be required to charge for plastic shopping bags. A joint panel of Japan’s industry and environment ministries approved a draft plan on November 1st to require all retailers across the nation, regardless of their size, to charge for disposable plastic shopping bags. Store operators will be allowed to set their own fees for bags.

The objective of the new policy is to encourage people to make a lifestyle change in order to reduce the growing amount of plastic waste Japan produces. Japan is the world’s second biggest producer of waste per capita, after the U.S., with consumers going through 30 billion plastic bags a year.

The Japanese government has committed to reduce single-use plastic by 25% by 2030. However, the government acknowledges that the proportion of plastic bags among all plastic waste is not big. Charging for them would be a symbolic measure that is meant to raise people’s awareness about the problem.

Bring your own gag, or pay for one

Plastic bags applicable to the law are defined as “one-time use plastic shopping bags derived from fossil resources that consumers use to carry purchased products.” Exclusions include bags that contain at least 25% plant-derived materials, marine biodegradable plastic bags, and plastic bags with a width of .05-mm or more. For hygiene reasons, thin roll bags usually used to package vegetables, for example, are also excluded.

Initially, the government planned to introduce mandatory fees for bags starting in April 2020 in order for people to get used to the new system by the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games; but it was decided that retailers would need more time to prepare for the new system.

A public education campaign will be carried out to raise awareness and prevent confusion among consumers. Guidelines for prices and exclusions will also be clarified for companies.

The government plans to amend a relevant ordinance under the Containers and Wrapping Materials Recycling law in late December in order to implement the mandatory fees.

Sources: Mainichi newspaper (in Japanese), November 1, 2019; The Guardian, “Japan’s plastic problem: Tokyo spearheads push at G20 to tackle waste” June 27, 2019

Lead photo: Interior of the Beisia Ohira Mall Store via Wikimedia