Japan is Finally Charging for Plastic Bags! How Will It Affect Our Lives?

On July 1, 2020, a new national requirement for stores to charge for plastic bags came into effect in Japan. What kind of effect will the introduction of these charges have on our household finances? And to what extent will they contribute to environmental conservation? In this article, we will examine the advantages and disadvantages that these plastic bag charges will bring to our lives.

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Plastic Bag Charges Were Introduced on July 1, 2020!

We are living in an increasingly “post-plastic” world, in which people try to reduce their use of disposable plastic with the goal of environmental conservation. As part of those measures, more than 60 countries around the world have already called for citizens to refrain from using single-use plastic bags or adopted the strategy of charging for plastic bags.

At last, even Japan has now implemented a requirement that all retail stores charge a fee for plastic bags, beginning July 1, 2020. As such, the common practice of distributing plastic bags for free has been abolished, meaning that we as consumers must now choose to either pay to purchase plastic bags if we need them, or use a reusable shopping bag.

The need to reduce plastic waste in an effort to help save the environment is the driving force behind this introduction. Many kinds of plastic items such as plastic bottles and food trays are used all around us, but at the moment, it is necessary to increase the environmental awareness of all consumers living in Japan, by first correcting our use of the ever-familiar plastic bag.

How Much is One Plastic Bag? We Tried Comparing Prices at Our Nearest Stores

Convenience Stores

The convenience store is a place you can stop by casually for a wide variety of products. It’s precisely because we use them so frequently that we wanted to get a good grasp on their plastic bag prices. For this article we compared three major convenience store chains that have stores all over Japan. When we checked the prices we found that most were around 3 yen.

- 7-Eleven: 3 yen for small/medium/large/bento bags, 5 yen for extra-large bags *plus tax
- Lawson: 3 yen for all sizes *plus tax
- FamilyMart: 3 yen for all sizes *plus tax

Supermarkets

Supermarkets are essential for buying groceries and they serve an important role in supporting our eating habits. The prices of 3 major Japanese supermarket chains are given below. If you’re stocking up on food, you will most likely need to buy the larger bags, which are usually around 5 yen.

- AEON: 2 yen for medium, 3 yen for large, 5 yen for extra large *plus tax
- Ito-Yokado: 3 yen for small/medium, 5 yen for large/extra large *plus tax
- Seiyu: 2 - 5 yen for bento bags, 5 yen for grocery bags *plus tax

Drugstores

Drugstores deal in many essential supplies. These retailers carry small items such as cosmetics and medicines as well as larger, heavier items such as toilet paper, cleaning agents, shampoos, and so on, so they have an expansive range of bag sizes. The cost of the bag is likely to differ a lot depending on the items you’re purchasing.

- Matsumoto Kiyoshi: 3 yen for small, 10 yen for XXL
- Cocokara Fine: 3 yen for medium, 5 yen for large, 10 yen for extra large
- Sugi Pharmacy: 2 yen for extra small, 3 yen for small, 5 yen for large

The Advantages of Plastic Bag Charges

In addition to having advantages for global environmental conservation, the introduction of charges for single-use plastic bags will also result in some advantages for our daily lives.

Refuse Single-Use Plastic Bags and Get Savings with Eco Points!

If you refuse plastic bags you may be able to receive some money-saving perks. For example, major convenience store FamilyMart has published the “FamilyMart Environmental Vision 2050” as part of its environmental conservation plan and is introducing a service in which customers who refuse plastic bags are awarded eco points via FamilyMart's payment app, “FamiPay.”  Your accumulated points can then be exchanged for coupons on specific products or discounts.

Reduce Plastic Bags That Will Be Disposed as Trash

Reducing the plastic bags that are disposed of as trash will inevitably lead to a reduction of waste output. According to an estimate by Japan's Ministry of the Environment, plastic bags are only around 2 - 3% of Japan's yearly output of plastic waste. This may be a small amount, yet they expect it to connect to further progress in waste reduction.

Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Carbon dioxide, which is produced during the manufacture and after the disposal of plastic bags, is a primary factor linked to global warming and is currently one of the greatest environmental issues that we face today. Various calculations have been done, but according to the Ministry of the Environment’s research, we can reduce CO2 emissions by 61 grams for every plastic bag we don't use. Assuming you use 1 plastic bag a day, that means you could reduce your CO2 emissions by 22 kilograms annually. Global warming is a cause of extreme weather, extinction of species, and other serious issues, and is an imminent crisis threatening our way of life. It's important to remember that we can all help to protect our planet by starting with the little things, such as refraining from using plastic bags. 

Prevent Ocean Pollution

Ocean pollution is the cause of incidents such as accidental ingestion by fish and birds, and deteriorating coastal scenery in every part of the world. In order to bring a stop to these issues, we must not only stop littering but also reduce our use of plastic items, including plastic bags, which are a huge source of plastic trash in our oceans. Without each of us becoming aware of the problem, we cannot resolve the issue of pollution in our oceans.

Improve Environmental Awareness

We've got to start with the things we can do in daily lives to tackle the problem. This is one step towards protecting our planet. Hopefully, the introduction of plastic bag charges can be a catalyst for increasing our eco-consciousness and re-examining our lifestyles.

As stated above, there is no mistaking that the introduction of charges of plastic bags will help with the conservation of the global environment. In regard to environmental issues, you may not feel a sense of impending crisis in your day-to-day life. However, we must take action, starting with the little things, and deepen our understanding of environmental conservation while doing what we can to protect the earth.

The Disadvantages of Plastic Bag Charges

In contrast to the above section, there may be some disadvantages that arise in our daily lives as a result of the introduction of charges for plastic bags.

Burden on Household Finances: Purchasing Reusable Bags & Garbage Bags

If plastic bags are not free, then there will likely be an increase in the number of people purchasing reusable shopping bags. You can buy a reusable shopping bag for a comparatively reasonable price, but this still creates a considerable expense. Additionally, many people use plastic shopping bags as garbage bags at home, but now they will have to purchase bags specifically for the purpose of disposing of trash. Moreover, some have no other option than to purchase plastic bags when they forget to bring their reusable shopping bags or do some unplanned shopping. Even though it isn't a large cost as a one-time expense, it is unavoidable that this will still have an impact on household finances to some extent.

Reusable Bags Need to be Kept Clean

Invisible dirt and microorganisms can also build up by using the same reusable shopping bag multiple times. Meat and seafood juices could leak out unbeknownst to you, or there may be soil on your produce, so we must also consider the hygiene aspect. In order to keep your reusable shopping bags clean, try to do the following: 
- Wash them regularly.
- Put meat, fish, and produce in a small plastic bag.
- Keep cold food (meat, fish, and refrigerated and frozen foods) separate from hot food
- Keep separate reusable bags for food and other daily necessities
- Don’t carry food in reusable bags for long periods of time

As stated above, there is no mistaking that the introduction of charges for plastic bags places the burden directly on consumers. As the familiar plastic bag system changes, we must establish a new lifestyle.

Functional and Stylish Reusable Shopping Bag Options

LeSportsac Japan Limited Edition Shopper Bag

This shopping bag, limited to the Japanese market, is from New York label LeSportsac. The bag is made with lightweight and durable material, so it's an item you can use repeatedly with no worries. It comes with a special pouch attached so you can also carry it around folded up. The bag is available in four colors. Each style has fashion-friendly subdued coloring.

Price: 5,000 yen (plus tax).

 

Shupatto Foldable Tote with Cute Traditional Japanese Patterns

This is the traditional Japanese pattern series of the “Shupatto Foldable Tote” which is functional yet beautifully designed. The designs feature motifs particular to Japan such as cherry blossoms, mari balls, and folding fans. This is an exceptional product that can be easily folded just by pulling on both ends. This item is designed to be used every day so complicated motions are kept to the minimum. Another great point about this product is its design, which prevents others from easily seeing inside.

Price: 1,980 yen (plus tax).

Fashionable Miyai Denim Furoshiki

A "furoshiki" is a type of cloth used for wrapping items to be carried or stored. Furoshiki have been used traditionally in Japan as a means of wrapping things. Traditional furoshiki can also be used as a reusable shopping bag.

This “Denim Furoshiki” by Miyai is made from denim fabric made in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, which is famous for its denim. The unique appearance of the denim improves the more you use it, so a great feature of this product is that you can enjoy it as it changes. You can’t compromise on fashion for an item you’re going to use on a daily basis.

This furoshiki can be purchased on the 4th floor of the Mitsukoshi Main Store in Nihombashi or at Mitsukoshi Isetan's online store. If purchasing in-person, they will show you how to use the furoshiki as a reusable shopping bag.

Price: 15,950 yen.

It is unavoidable that our daily lives will change due to the recently introduced plastic bag charges. This is our cue to start re-examining our use of reusable shopping bags and plastic bags while also increasing our awareness of environmental issues.

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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