Stores Around Japan Will Start Charging for Plastic Bags Starting July 1st

Nationwide Culture News 2020.06.14
Partially in place at grocery stores already, new plastic-bag policy is coming to Japan this July, and people are talking about it.
In an eco-friendly move similar to policies seen in Europe and other parts of Asia, this February the Japanese Ministry of Finance issued a request for new policy regarding free plastic bags, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry responded by announcing the creation of a new plastic bag fee system starting July 1, 2020. Major retailers of all kinds, department stores, and (perhaps most importantly) convenience stores will all be taking part in the new system. The so-called "fee system" requires companies to charge at least 1 yen per plastic bag, but not all bags are equal, and some varieties are exempt from the new policy. The fee is waived for:

・Plastic bags at least 50 microns thick, which are reusable and can promote a reduction in plastics use.
・Plastic bags made from 100% marine-degradable bioplastic, which can be decomposed by microorganisms in the ocean.
・Plastic bags made from at least 25% biomass, which doesn't increase carbon dioxide emissions.

(Also excluded are the thin, handle-less plastic bags used to contain produce!)
The new policies are fairly straightforward, but of course there has been plenty of Twitter discourse following the announcement. Most voices have been positive, praising the system's eco-friendly goals of reducing plastic waste. Quite a few Twitter users have taken advantage of the policy change, sharing cool reusable shopping bags of their own creation or others'. Some people have even looked to the past for inspiration, discussing traditional Japanese carrying methods using "furoshiki" cloths. (Very stylish!)
Some netizens were a little concerned, however, bringing up some varied qualms with the new system. For shop staff, won't it be a lot of extra work to explain the system? At first, staff will have to clarify bag prices, but in the future they'll still have to continue asking every customer about plastic bags. Others felt that the lack of plastic bags would be unhygienic, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the many possible solutions suggested during these discussions, a couple felt especially familiar, as a writer from Taiwan.

「Convenience stores will also start doing paid bags on July 1st. When we get food heated at the store we'll all just have to carry it out holding the very edge and going "hothothothothot," I suppose?

In Taiwan they already charge for plastic bags at convenience stores, but if you get heated food they'll put it in one of these mysterious net things for free. I really hope they'll start doing the same thing in Japan.」

「These two things were brought by guests from Taiwan, and I'm usually not the type of person who starts random conversations, but I thought "now those look so handy~!" and I started talking to them. I kept thinking "neeeeed!" so I really want Japan to start using them!! Starbucks, please! Convenience stores, please!」

Coming from Taiwan, all the conversations on Twitter kept reminding me of when Taiwanese shops that sell to-go drinks had to similarly stop providing free plastic bags, and people came up with ingenious solutions. Since Taiwan has had a plastic bag fee system in place since back in 2002, everyone there is very used to it. Honestly, when I first arrived in Japan a couple years ago, supermarket staff handing out plastic bags willy-nilly even freaked me out a little. Not only were the bags free, but staff would give you more than necessary to carry all your groceries. The bags started piling up at home, and I had so many it started to stress me out!

For now, many convenience stores and supermarkets have announced that they'll be selling bags for around 3 to 5 yen depending on the size. Some have even started using the system in advance! So if you're in Japan, or planning to visit, remember to bring a reusable shopping bag along. (Good for your wallet and the environment!) Or pick up a new shopping bag while you're hereーit might just make the perfect souvenir.
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