Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said Friday that his ministry has stopped distributing plastic bags at all shops inside its government building, taking what he touted as a trailblazing step toward reducing plastic waste.
Plastic bags are no longer provided at any shop within the ministry’s building in Tokyo, including a Seven-Eleven outlet and other stores selling books, drugs and bento. The same building also houses the health ministry.
People buying items at the stores have been asked to bring their own bags.
An estimated 860,000 plastic bags per year won’t be needed due to the Environment Ministry’s initiative, according to ministry official Yuichiro Iseki.
“We will take the initiative and become a role model. We hope to encourage other ministries to follow suit,” Koizumi told reporters.
Separately, Defense Minister Taro Kono announced the same day that stores within the Ichigaya building in central Tokyo where his ministry is located will stop handing out plastic bags starting in January — a move that he said will gradually extend to Self-Defense Forces facilities.
The initiatives by the ministries precedes the planned launch of a new system next July that will mandate all retailers across the nation charge customers an extra fee for plastic bags.
By stopping the use of plastic bags altogether, Koizumi’s ministry appears eager to show its commitment to the battle against plastic waste by taking a bolder step than the mere act of charging money for bags.
“The Environment Ministry is the spearhead of the move” toward tackling the plastic waste crisis, Iseki said. “So we wanted to take the initiative in doing whatever we can.”
Iseki said the new policy is likely to cause little confusion among ministry officials and employees as they have already been advised to bring their own bags to use when shopping inside the building.
A joint panel of the environment and industry ministries in November approved a draft plan by the government to launch the mandatory fee system for plastic bags next year.
Under the plan, each retailer will be expected to decide how much they want to charge for plastic bags. The implementation of fees is a uniform system that applies to all retailers regardless of size, the panel said.
The plan also stated that plastic bags deemed relatively environmentally sustainable will be exempt from the fee system, including those comprising at least 25 percent of bioplastics material.
While China was the largest worldwide generator of plastic packaging waste in 2017, Japan was responsible for the largest amount per capita after the United States, according to data from the U.N. Environment Program.