All plastic waste in Japan expected to be collected together in new category

THE JAPAN NEWS – To promote the recycling of household plastic waste, the government plans to ask municipalities across the country to set up new collection categories and collect all plastic waste together, The Yomiuri Shimbun learnt.

Plastic waste, from containers for meat, fish and takeout to stationery, has been collected by municipal governments in differing ways in different categories, including combustible waste and non-combustible waste.

Therefore, the central government decided to create a new unified classification for exclusive use: “plastic resources”.

The Environment Ministry and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will present the draft plan at a meeting of experts today. After that, the council will compile a plan to improve the system by the end of the current fiscal year and aim to implement it with the new categories sometime after fiscal 2022.

Plastic waste from households includes food containers, wrappers, stationery and shopping bags. Waste collection is conducted by local governments, but categories for plastic waste other than PET bottles vary, such as combustible waste, non-combustible waste and plastic containers and wrapping with plastic identification marks.

File photo shows piles of plastic waste in Sakai. PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN

According to the Environment Ministry, 77 per cent of the nation’s municipalities, or 1,336 of them, already separated and collected plastic waste in the category of plastic containers and wrapping. However, plastic waste such as toys and stationery without the identification marks are exempt from the category, so plastic waste is mixed in with combustible and non-combustible waste and is incinerated or used for landfill, instead of being recycled. Among Tokyo’s 23 wards, plastic waste is actually incinerated as combustible waste in 11 wards.

The central government decided to classify plastic waste as “plastic resources” and will ask municipalities nationwide to collect the waste together to create an environment conducive to recycling.

Plastic waste recycling is stagnating. According to the Plastic Waste Management Institute, out of a total of 8.91 million tonnes of plastic waste in Japan in 2018, 2.08 million tonnes were recycled into new products through the process of material recycling, accounting for 23 per cent of plastic waste, and the recycling rate was less than 30 per cent.

It costs time and money to sort plastic waste. This fact is said to be one of the main reasons for the slow pace of recycling.

Currently, local governments consign companies to sort plastic containers and wrapping before transporting the waste to recycling facilities. Under the new system, the central government aims to enhance the process so that local governments can send collected plastic waste directly to recycling facilities.

It also plans to upgrade recycling facilities so that they can immediately sort the waste themselves. By simplifying the process, municipalities may be able to decrease their fiscal burden as a result.