National

Plastic waste piling up in Japan after Chinese import ban

Kyodo

Plastic waste is piling up in Japan with many local governments struggling to cope after China banned the import of such waste late last year, Environment Ministry data showed Thursday.

According to about a quarter of 102 local governments that responded to a ministry survey, the amount of plastic waste stored at local scrap companies increased between January and July, with some reporting that piled-up waste had exceeded the legal limit.

Japan exports about 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year and until last year around half went to China, which imported the waste for recycling purposes. In late 2017, China stopped accepting plastic waste out of concern over environmental pollution.

Although no cases of illegal dumping were confirmed in the survey, a ministry official said some local governments are worried about future cases of unauthorized disposal and that the government will further look into the situation.

Conducted between January and July, the poll surveyed 122 local governments and 605 waste disposal businesses, asking them about the plastic waste management situation, to which 102 municipalities and 175 firms responded.

Limit violations were found at five local governments, while 34 municipalities said they are struggling to find destinations for their waste.

Plastic waste disposal increased at 56 percent of intermediate processors that incinerate or shred plastics and at 25 percent of final processors that bury waste in landfills.

A total of 34.9 percent of companies said they are limiting or considering restricting the amount of plastics they accept.

Japan produces the largest amount of plastic waste per capita after the United States and has lagged behind other countries in curbing the use of plastics despite growing fears over environmental pollution.

According to the Finance Ministry’s trade statistics, Japan exported between 25,000 tons and 86,000 tons of plastic waste per month last year. Exports to Asian countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia have increased recently, but some Southeast Asian nations are considering a ban on imports of such waste.

The Environment Ministry is compiling a strategy to reduce plastic waste, and sources said it is considering including a numerical target of cutting the amount of disposable plastic waste by 25 percent by 2030, while increasing the use of environmentally friendly bioplastics made from plants.

To achieve the goal, the government will make it mandatory for retailers to charge for shopping bags and slash the use of microplastics in facial scrubs and toothpaste.