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Japanese companies in the retail, restaurant and accommodation industries are accelerating efforts to reduce the use of plastic, such as introducing products made of alternative materials.

Excessive use of plastic has been criticized as one of the biggest causes of environmental pollution.

The Japanese government unveiled this week its plan to require major companies to reduce the use of disposable plastic products under a new law to be enforced from April 1 next year.

Businesses subject to the law will be obliged to reduce the use of the 12 items, including disposable spoons and toothbrushes, currently provided for free to consumers.

On Aug. 17, convenience store operator Lawson Inc. started offering wooden spoons to customers, instead of plastic ones, at eight Natural Lawson outlets in Tokyo, on a trial basis.

Retail giant Seven & i Holdings Co. aims to end the use of plastic in containers and packaging for its original products and start using environmentally considerate materials by 2050.

Restaurant chain Skylark Holdings Co. has been using biomass materials for its takeout forks and other utensils. This summer, it also started asking customers using a delivery service whether they needed such items.

Convenience store operator FamilyMart Co. created a plastic spoon with holes, which requires 12% less plastic than the conventional one does.

The company started introducing the spoon at some outlets in May.

It plans to have all of its outlets across the country introduce the spoon by the end of September, which would help the company to reduce plastic use by 65 tons a year.

In April, Tokyu Hotels Co. introduced toothbrushes and shower caps made of plant-derived materials at two facilities. It plans to introduce such items at 20 facilities by the end of next March.

Meanwhile, not all companies are happy to make active efforts to shift away from the use of plastic.

“It will be difficult to follow the new rules due to problems related to the costs of introducing alternative products and the convenience of customers,” said a senior official at a supermarket operator.

A plan to charge customers for single-use plastic items, which was proposed by the government as one way to achieve use reduction in the 12 products, may drive customers away, said an official in the retail industry.

“It is difficult (to introduce such measures) with no government guidelines,” the official said.

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