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Starting this month, Japanese retailers must charge customers for plastic shopping bags. It’s considered an important and overdue measure in the campaign to reduce the amount of single-use plastics, which is a major waste problem, but it’s hardly a solution. Many people also use shopping bags as garbage bags. Plastic shopping bags are generally strong, flexible and can be tied up easily. If shopping bags are not available, people may buy more plastic garbage bags, which means the amount of plastic reduced by restricting shopping bags could be made up by the amount of plastic in garbage bags. Or people may just opt to pay for plastic shopping bags that used to be free.

In an article that appeared July 1 on the Diamond Online website, Tatsuya Kakita, a consumer affairs researcher, said the government knows the new law is unlikely to reduce plastic waste and doesn’t claim that it will. If that were the actual goal, it would just ban plastic shopping bags. The trade ministry says the aim of the law is to make consumers acknowledge the plastic waste issue: People need to assess whether they really need plastic shopping bags in the first place.

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