Food packaging & new Plastic Recycling Law in Japan

Following the start of a new law in Japan on April 1 that aims to increase the circularity of plastic throughout its lifecycle, we look at one of Japan’s big areas of plastic use – food packaging.


For many people, their image of Japanese food includes strict hygiene standards, freshness, and convenient access to ready-to-eat meals and bottled drinks. For others, copious amounts of packaging to ensure those high standards may be what comes to mind.


Food packaging and environmental issues

On the upside, packaging does help maintain the quality of food and sustain its longevity. But there’s a significant downside, too: plastic production emits a large amount of carbon dioxide. For instance, the carbon footprint of just five plastic bags is 1 kg of CO2.


Data shows that the packaging industry accounts for 42% of global plastic waste. Since CO2 is one of the greenhouse gases that are raising global temperatures, plastic packaging plays a considerable role in causing climate change. That is why Japan is trying to reduce plastic production by increasing the circularity of it as a resource.


The shift to package-free & biodegradable materials

In the EU, there is already a big movement to reduce food packaging and invent new and more environmentally friendly packaging. For example, at the beginning of this year, the French government banned the packaging of 30 types of fruit and vegetables at supermarkets and other retail shops. This will greatly reduce the amount of single-use plastic packaging. Consumers might find the change inconvenient, or feel it to be unhygienic in some cases, but such issues are likely to be resolved in time as shoppers adjust.


Japan’s New Plastic Resource Circulation Act

In April, the Ministry of the Environment implemented a new law, “The Plastic Resource Circulation Act.” The main principle of it is to use subsidies to encourage companies to reduce the production of single-use plastic and develop and adopt more circular product designs and systems. Examples include refill products that use less voluminous packaging and product-collection points run by the companies for recycling purposes.


The new law encourages municipalities and manufacturers to collect and recycle plastic products. Companies that conform to the principles receive 150,000 yen from the ministry. That acts as an incentive for them to transit toward a circular business model, and that shift leads consumers to adopt the new style of packaging.


The new act also adjusts legislation to make it easier for companies to implement recycling plans, and allows government ministers to issue orders to companies that generate large amounts of plastics.