All retail stores across Japan, including convenience stores and supermarkets, will be required to charge shoppers for plastic bags from Wednesday as a measure to protect the environment.
But plastic shopping bags account for only around 2 percent of all plastic waste produced in the country. While the government hopes that the introduction of the fees will encourage consumers to change their habits, the challenge will be accelerating the reduction in the amount of overall plastic waste by utilizing the launch of the fees as a catalyst.
To introduce the fees, the government last December revised ordinances related to the law on containers and packaging recycling, hoping that more and more people will bring their own bags when going shopping.
Starting from Wednesday, stores may start handing out free, reusable plastic shopping bags, as well as bags that are decomposed by microorganisms in the sea and those containing at least 25 percent biomass materials.
Under related government guidelines, stores are being asked to charge customers at least ¥1 for each bag.
The introduction of the nationwide mandatory fee system comes at a time when marine plastic waste is becoming a serious global issue. Many areas around the world have seen fish and birds consume plastic waste by mistake or such refuse destroy the coastal landscape.
In addition, the world is increasingly on the alert for microplastics.
Kyushu University professor Atsuhiko Isobe, an expert on physical oceanography, warned that the amount of microplastics will be high enough to affect marine life in the 2060s.
As its first step toward leading the world in taking action to tackle marine plastic waste, the government decided to reduce the amount of plastic shopping bags in the country.
The Environment Ministry has launched a campaign to raise the proportion of shoppers who do not seek plastic bags at stores to 60 percent by the end of this year from 30 percent in March this year.
Still, as much as some 9 million tons of plastic waste are produced in Japan in a year.
The effect of the shopping bag fees in reducing the amount of waste will be limited as there are many other plastic items in society.
"We will roll out plastic shopping bag fees in the hope of making people aware of (the seriousness) of the global issue," Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said at a news conference on Tuesday last week.