Reducing plastic waste and boosting recycling

Penalties apply for insufficient waste reduction efforts.

Increasing Needs for Plastic Waste Reduction

In August 2021, Japan’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) jointly held a meeting of experts to discuss draft governmental and ministerial ordinances and draft public notices regarding the Act on Promotion of Resource Circulation for Plastics, aimed at reducing plastic waste and promoting recycling. At this meeting, the list of 12 items that are subject to reduction of plastic use was presented as “Specified Plastic-containing Products”, including: plastic cutlery, such as spoons and forks, for retailers and restaurants; toiletries, such as disposable hairbrushes and razors, for the hotel industry; and hangers and clothing covers, for the laundry industry.

Providers are required to rationalize the use of such products by charging a fee, awarding points, and confirming the intentions of consumers. In addition, businesses that used 5 tons or more of these plastic products in the previous year will be designated as “high-volume providers” and will be mandated to reduce the use of such products. In case such reduction efforts by high-volume providers are significantly insufficient, penalties, such as publication of the companies’ names, will be imposed. Enforcement of the Act is set to begin in April 2022. The content of this Act will be adjusted based on the opinions of the expert panel, and then public comments will be incorporated into the Act.

Details of 12 items and designated industries

Among all plastic-containing products that are provided free of charge to consumers as part of the sales of products or provision of services, the Act designates the following 12 specific products, which are especially relevant on the following points: a large amount of the product is provided to consumers; the amount of waste is expected to be reduced by rationalizing its use; and reduction of excessive use and transition to alternative materials are being promoted. The categories include forks, spoons, knives, muddlers, straws, hairbrushes, combs, shavers, shower caps, toothbrushes, hangers, and clothing covers, all of which are made of plastic. In addition, the Act designates the following industries as consuming a large volume of plastic products and having a particular need to take action: merchandise retailers of all kinds, food retailers of all kinds, other food and beverage retailers, non-store retailers, lodging, restaurants, take-out and delivery food services, and laundry businesses. Even if the company’s main business does not fall under one of the above categories, if any part of its business activities fits one of the industries listed above, that part of the company’s business is considered to be subject to this Act. These business operators must set targets for the rationalization of the use of specified plastic-containing products that are provided at their place of business, and systematically implement initiatives to achieve them. Specifically, they are required to promote reduction through measures such as charging a fee, awarding points, and confirming the intentions of consumers, depending on the actual situation of the industry or business category they operate.

In addition, the Act stipulates that plastic products should be designed to be thinner and lighter in weight, or that they should be made from renewable resources or recycled plastics; that they should be of appropriate size; and that they should be reusable. Certain waste generating businesses will be obliged to reduce their emissions, and if their efforts are deemed insufficient or not in compliance, their names will be made public and they will be fined. The fine may be up to 4,543 US dollars, but public disclosure of the company’s noncompliance will certainly have a significant impact on the company’s market reputation, so companies will have no choice but to comply with emission-reduction requirements.