TOKYO—Soon, Japan's foodservice operators will stop distributing free plastic forks, spoons and containers under a new, nationwide law that aims to eliminate waste.
According to Asia.Nikkei.com, companies that use large amounts of single-use plastic will be required to ask customers whether they want utensils and charge a fee for them or switch to handing out utensils made from biodegradable materials. Violators risk fines of up to 500,000 yen (about US$4,500) for repeated violations.
Japan used nearly 10 million tons of plastic in 2019 and generated 8.5 million tons of plastic waste, according to the Plastic Waste Management Institute. Only a quarter of this waste was recycled, and the government wants to double plastic recycling by 2030.
Businesses that have relied on free plastic utensils and containers are studying their options. Convenience store operators, such as 7-Eleven Japan, offer plastic spoons and forks for free with meals. FamilyMart has not set out specific policies but is "actively work[ing] to reduce plastic" waste, as reported in NACS Daily. "We will consider charging for them going forward," among other possibilities, a representative from a major convenience chain said.
The law could change consumer habits, just as the introduction last July of mandatory fees for plastic bags has done. The share of customers declining bags at the register jumped from around 20% to the mid-70% range at convenience stores as well as from 60% to 80% at supermarkets, according to an Environment Ministry survey of industry groups.
More companies are likely to turn to utensils made of alternative materials. In August, Nippon Airways will switch to meal containers made of sugarcane fibers for in-flight meals in economy class. It expects the change to reduce its single-use-plastic waste by 317 tons per year, or about 30%.
Several years ago, Starbucks promised to phase out plastic straws worldwide by 2020, providing such options as paper straws and strawless lids. The coffee shop chain began selling reusable silicone straws in Japan this past March.
A type of water- and oil-resistant paper developed by Daio Paper is set to be used in stirrers for one big cafe chain, too, and the company looks to market it for utensils as well. Mitsubishi Chemical offers biodegradable plastic that can decompose into water and carbon dioxide, which is being used to produce straws and disposable cups.
The law has raised concerns among some businesses, like convenience stores, which face questions as to whether to raise prices on takeout items. "We'll lose customers if we start charging for spoons," a restaurant chain executive said.
The measure is set to take effect next April, with many of the details to be worked out by ministries in the meantime.