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Editorial: Can Japan prepare to dispose of all plastic waste domestically?

  • May 14, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:37 p.m.
  • English Press

The Yomiuri Shimbun


Plastic waste can bring about environmental pollution. It is essential to dispose of it appropriately.


At a meeting of signatory countries to the Basel Convention, nations agreed to add unclean plastic waste — which has impurities such as the remains of food or drink on it — to the list of items subject to regulations restricting their import and export between countries. The proposal was put forward by countries including Japan and Norway. The new restriction is slated to come into effect in 2021.


The Basel Convention is a treaty that regulates the import and export of hazardous waste, and 186 countries and regions plus the European Union belong to it. This marked the first comprehensive, international restriction regarding plastic waste.


In Southeast Asia, plastic waste imported from foreign countries has flowed into the ocean, having an adverse effect on marine environments. The adoption of this restriction can be considered a display of the global sense of crisis over the current state of plastic waste problems.


In Japan, about 9 million tons of plastic waste are discharged annually, and 1.43 million tons of such waste were exported for recycling in 2017. However, these exported plastics included unclean, nonrecyclable plastic waste.


China, a country that had accepted most of the plastic waste exported by Japan, banned its import in principle at the end of 2017, on the grounds of environmental pollution. Consequently, Japan’s plastic waste exports to such countries as Malaysia and Thailand increased.


Under the new regulations, when Japan exports unclean plastic waste, it is necessary for prior consent to be obtained from recipient countries before it is traded, and also for recipient countries to be equipped with plastic-waste treatment facilities on a par with or more capable than those operating in Japan. It will become effectively impossible for Japan to export such plastic waste.


The question is whether Japan can make preparations for plastic waste to be entirely disposed of domestically.


Improve treatment facilities


Plastic waste that cannot be processed in Japan has remained in the country ever since China banned imports of such waste. Within the premises of plastic-waste disposal facilities, plastic waste in excess of what can be gotten rid of has been piling up. The sharp rise in personnel expenses and treatment costs cannot be ignored, either.


In order to propel the disposal of plastic waste, it is indispensable for additional relevant facilities to be built and for machinery performance to be enhanced. The Environment Ministry is considering increasing subsidies to plastic-waste disposers and easing regulations on the construction of relevant facilities, for instance. Yet it remains uncertain whether those business operators will develop their facilities as expected.


Plastic recycling technologies to convert plastic waste into new products by melting them down must be honed more than ever before. There is a need to develop materials that can be used repeatedly and to promote the use of plastics made of botanical materials.


Rinsing off PET bottles after drinking the beverage and putting them out in the sorted trash collection offered by local municipalities and supermarket stores. Using as little single-use tableware such as plastic spoons and forks as possible. These efforts to reduce the amount of plastic waste are also needed.


Japan is ranked the world’s second-largest consumer of plastics per person. Everyone’s mind-set will be brought into question, as well.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2019)

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