National

Ministry to urge firms to cut use of microplastics amid marine pollution crisis

Kyodo

The Environment Ministry said Wednesday it plans to urge companies to reduce their use of microplastics, amid heightened global concern over marine pollution.

Under an updated policy that the ministry plans to compile by year-end, companies would be asked to curb use of microbeads in face wash and toothpaste. Restaurants and shops would also be asked to refrain from using plastic bags and straws.

The ministry unveiled the draft of the revised policy as a panel of experts met Wednesday.

“It’s almost impossible to retrieve microplastics from the ocean,” one of the experts noted.

The draft also called on fishermen to ensure they do not abandon plastic fishing gear in the sea.

Countries are grappling with increasing amounts of plastic waste that degrades into small pieces when exposed to ultraviolet light and abrasion. Pieces measuring less than 5 mm in length are called microplastics.

As the impact of such plastic waste on the marine ecosystem has yet to be fully determined, the government plans to carry out research on the issue, according to the draft.

The basic policy lays out the roles of the government and municipalities in dealing with waste that drifts ashore, as well as measures to curb waste generation together with the private sector.

The existing policy, approved by the Cabinet in 2010, made no reference to microplastics countermeasures. The Environment Ministry has decided to include measures in the upcoming revision amid growing awareness of the issue.

Problems posed by marine plastic debris will also be discussed at next week’s East Asia Summit in Singapore.

Leaders or deputies from 18 countries — 10 Southeast Asian Nations, the United States, Japan, China, India, Russia, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — will issue a statement on cooperating to combat marine plastic debris, official sources said Wednesday.

They are expected to pledge at the Nov. 15 summit to take steps that will include exploring the possibility of adopting a regional action plan on preventing and reducing marine plastic debris.

Other measures include improving capacity-building, encouraging international collaboration and promoting development of national action plans.

The amount of plastic waste entering the ocean has reached crisis levels, with an estimated 8 million tons leaking into the ocean every year. More than half of it comes from just five Asian countries — China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam — according to a 2015 study.