Days of free plastic forks and straws numbered under new Japan law

Nikkei -- Jun 05
Japan's restaurants and retailers will soon have to stop giving away plastic forks, spoons and containers under a law passed Friday to cut down on such waste, instead looking into such options as charging for utensils, switching to biodegradables, or letting customers fend for themselves.

Companies that use large amounts of single-use plastic will be required to take steps such as asking customers whether they want utensils, charging a fee for them or switching to products made from biodegradable materials -- or risk fines of up to 500,000 yen ($4,500) for repeated violations.

The law is expected to take effect next April, with many of the details to be worked out by ministries in the meantime.

Japan used nearly 10 million tons of plastic in 2019 and generated 8.5 million tons of waste plastic, according to the Plastic Waste Management Institute. Only a quarter of this waste was recycled rather than burned or put in landfills.

The government aims to double plastic recycling by 2030 and looks to use the new legislation to spur businesses to lead the way.

Businesses that have relied on free plastic utensils and containers are already weighing their options.

Convenience store operators such as Seven-Eleven Japan, for example, offer plastic spoons and forks for free with meals such as pasta and curry. "We will consider charging for them going forward," among other possibilities, a representative from a major convenience store company said.

FamilyMart has not set out specific policies but said it will "actively work to reduce plastic" waste.

The law could spur a shift in consumer habits, much as the introduction last July of mandatory fees for plastic bags has done. The share of customers declining bags at the register jumped from around 20% to the mid-70% range at convenience stores, and from 60% to 80% at supermarkets, likely thanks to more shoppers bringing in reusable bags, according to an Environment Ministry survey of industry groups.

- Nikkei