Jinichi Abe grins as he watches diggers working earth near his rice fields, knowing they are returning still more fields to productivity after Fukushima nuclear reactors exploded and sprayed the area with radiation over a decade ago.

Even better, Abe knows the rice that he and a cooperative grow will have a steady buyer, and his town of Namie, still struggling to recover from the March 2011 disaster, has a new hope: a venture that turns rice unsellable for consumption due to health worries into low-carbon plastic used by major firms across Japan.

Last November, Tokyo-based firm Biomass Resin opened a factory in Namie to turn locally grown rice into pellets. The raw materials are reborn as low-carbon plastic cutlery and takeout containers used in chain restaurants, plastic bags at post offices and souvenirs sold at one of Japan's largest international airports.