National / Science & Health

New Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi vows Japan will take lead role on plastic waste

by Sakura Murakami and Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writers

Newly appointed Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi spoke to reporters Friday about his ambitions and goals in his new role, saying that he hopes to make Japan a global leader in tackling environmental issues during a joint interview with media organizations including The Japan Times.

“I hope to have people across the world understand that Japan is actually leading in some aspects of environmental policy … and there are many unique ways that Japan can contribute to global environmental issues,” he said.

“If we take the issue of plastic, Japan has been lambasted for producing the second-most plastic waste per head in the world, but in terms of total waste output, China has far more output. Japan, on the other hand, actually has high rates of plastic recovery,” he said, explaining that some figures reached as high as 90 percent.

“If the public could understand the ways in which Japan was leading in environmental issues, I think that would give them confidence to make the lifestyle changes necessary to bring about environmental changes for the better,” he added.

Only the U.S. produces more plastic per capita, but in terms of single-use plastic, Japan has a recycling rate of over 80 percent. However, some 58 percent of that plastic went to incinerators and was burned to generate power in 2017, according to figures released by the Plastic Waste Management Institute. About 14 percent is either dumped or burned as waste, and 13 percent of that plastic is recycled for products such as clothes, according to the same report.

Still, Koizumi spoke of his high hopes that Japan could work with other countries to tackle the issue of marine plastics and plastic waste.

“Reducing plastic straws, bottles and bags is very important, but I’m talking about the issue on the macro-level precisely because this issue is worldwide and needs to be tackled globally,” he said.

Koizumi also said he will meet local fishermen to build up a relationship of trust before making a decision on whether to dump filtered but still slightly contaminated water, currently held in hundreds of water tanks at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, into the sea.

“I know it is sometimes important to stir up debates, but about this issue, you can’t make a commotion” among local people, he said.

The government and scientists say dumping contaminated tritium would not pose any health risks to humans, but local fishers in Fukushima Prefecture are concerned that consumers would stop buying seafood from the prefecture’s ports at a time when such exports from the area are recovering.

Meanwhile, the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., said recently it will run out of land to build more water tanks within the compound by summer 2022. Yoshiaki Harada, Koizumi’s predecessor, argued that there would be no alternative for the government but to approve the release of the tritium-tainted water from the Fukushima plant into the sea.

During the interview, Koizumi didn’t say whether water should be dumped or not, but emphasized that building trust with local people is the priority for the Environment Ministry.

“This issue is not within the jurisdiction (of the Environment Ministry), but I need to first meet every person,” he said.

“I have to build up relationships with Fukushima people, so I will make every effort to make progress based on that relationship,” he said.

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