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06/12/2020

Charging for disposable bags and the future ahead

Curbing disposable bag usage only first step in reducing plastics use

The G20 ministerial meeting on energy transitions and global environment for sustainable growth in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, in June 2019, held discussions on plastic waste.

This coming July, retailers across Japan will start charging shoppers for disposable plastic bags, which have previously been provided for free. Some of the nation’s major retailers, including Aeon group and Matsumotokiyoshi Holdings Co., started charging for such bags in April.

Japan produces the second-largest amount of disposable plastic package waste per person in the world after the United States. At a time when plastic waste outflow into the ocean has become a serious problem around the world, charging for disposable bags is a significant first step in that it provides consumers with a chance to reflect on how they rely on disposable plastics and encourages them to change their mindset.

Retailers across Japan will start charging shoppers for disposable plastic bags from July.

The METI Journal looks into the current plastic waste situation and efforts to develop materials and products with a low environmental load, and discusses how we can shape a sustainable future.

Changing behavior

In January, a unique idea for reducing disposable plastic shopping bags was tested at convenience stores inside government ministry buildings, including the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Finance. The test was aimed at assessing the impact on consumer behavior of putting a behavioral economics concept called Nudge theory into practice.

Organizers distributed cards with a printed message saying, “I don’t need a disposable bag,” intended for shoppers to show cashiers their preference. While similar card systems are often used at Japanese retailers, different card designs were trialed in this test to see if there was any difference in the number of shoppers who declined plastic bags.

At a store inside the METI building, cards with a design featuring a photo of a beach strewn with marine litter were used, while the cards introduced at a store at the Ministry of Finance only had the message printed on a blank background.

Convenience stores inside the buildings of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and other facilities conducted a test on reducing the use of disposable shopping plastic bags.

As the word indicates, the idea behind Nudge theory is to provide preferable options to curb people’s behavior in desired ways while respecting their freedom. The January test was part of a new initiative to explore ways to alter consumer behavior in order to reduce plastic waste through methods other than charging for disposable bags.

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