Bill to reduce microplastics released into the environment passed by Japan's Upper House

Kyodo, JIJI

The Upper House on Friday passed a bill to reduce microplastics, with the aim of combating ocean pollution by reining in corporate use and emissions of the tiny plastic pieces that are feared to have a serious impact on the environment.

The lawmaker-led legislation calls on businesses such as makers of face washes and toothpastes to stop using microplastics in their products, and make efforts to reduce emissions of the plastic pieces up to 5 milimeters across, but it does not penalize those who do not comply.

Microplastics, which include chipped plastic waste and microbeads, are difficult to remove once they enter water, tend to absorb harmful chemicals, and accumulate inside fish, birds and other animals as they make their way up the food chain.

A team of researchers said last year some 40 percent of fish caught in its surveys across the country had microplastics inside their digestive systems — an indication of worrying levels of pollution in Japan’s lakes and the sea.

Countermeasures for plastic waste were also included in the communique of the Group of Seven industrialized nations summit earlier this month in Canada.

The total volume of plastics entering the oceans has been estimated to reach between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tons a year, according to researchers.

The latest legislation, which revises the law on promoting removal and disposal of marine debris, is the country’s first to include measures for reducing microplastics, according to the Environment Ministry.

In the private sector, the Japan Cosmetic Industry Association urged its members in 2016 to restrict the use of microplastics.

An Environment Ministry survey conducted in fiscal 2016 found that two of the surveyed 150 face cleansers and body soaps sold in Japan contained microbeads.

The production of cosmetics with microbeads has been banned in the United States, Britain, France and some other countries.