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The shared use of reusable shopping bags for staff is increasing at local governments and businesses in Japan to reduce plastic waste and combat marine pollution.

All retailers across the country, regardless of their size, are required to charge customers for plastic bags. The requirement, which came into effect July 1, has prompted shoppers to bring their own bags.

But there remain cases of shoppers forgetting to bring them and paying for plastic bags at the checkout counter.

To avoid such wasteful use of plastic bags, the municipal office of Sapporo has some 40 reusable shopping bags hanging on the walls of the 12th and 13th floors of its main building.

The practice started spontaneously in June last year, with workers of the environment bureau and other sections bringing reusable bags from their homes, and anyone can use the bags if available. When a bag is picked up, a message appears on the wall that reads, "Thanks for reducing plastic bags."

"We often use plastic bags during lunch break, as went go to shops in the building or convenience stores nearby," said Toshiya Miyoshi, a senior official in the "eco-city" promotion section. The availability of reusable bags has reduced the use of plastic bags, he said.

Although many personnel now bring their own shopping bags, the shared use of reusable bags will continue "for the time being as an awareness-raising program," Miyoshi said.

The city office of Tokorozawa in Saitama Prefecture has, since February, kept eight or nine reusable bags near the doorway of its building for use by workers who come down from higher floors to go out for shopping without their own bags. The reusable bags are brought by workers from their homes or donated by citizens.

"Ideally, everyone should carry a bag, but we keep the reusable bags for use when we forget," said Naoto Yoshida in the environmental policy section.

The shared use of reusable bags is also practiced at the city office of Kameoka in Kyoto Prefecture and the Environment Ministry. Beginning next year, Kameoka is set to ban local retailers from offering customers single-use plastic shopping bags, whether they are free or not, the first such measure in Japan.

Among business enterprises, Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. started keeping reusable bags for shared use by employees at the entrance of a retail store in its head office building in Tokyo in December 2018. As a result, the use of plastic shopping bags has decreased by 30 percent, according to the company.

There are concerns about possible coronavirus infections from the reusable bags, but Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi has said there is "no scientific evidence as of now" verifying such infections, stressing the importance of basic infection-prevention measures such as hand washing and sterilization.

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