SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English
Xie Zhihai “Global Environment and Plastic Shopping Bags”
On July 1 2020, charging for plastic shopping bags started in Japan. Frankly speaking, I feel it “too late”. There are two reasons.
(1) As for a law for charging, Japan falls behind not only advanced countries but other foreign countries also.
(2) Amid worldwide corona-virus pandemics now, it became difficult for people to understand the concept of charging shopping bags.
Originally, shopping bags shall be charged for the sake of the global environment. However, the COVID-19 is everything for the people now and subject, charging for plastic bags, was digressed from the theme. I personally think that we should think about the environment more seriously putting aside the COVID-19.
In 1993, Denmark levied a tax on plastic shopping bags for the first time in the world and the ratio of using shopping bags decreased by 60%. Ireland has followed the “shopping bags tax” in 2002 and it was the first time that consumers pay a tax on a shopping bag, though it is mainstream now. According to the specialized journal “流通ニュース”（Distribution News), a manager of Recycling Promotion Division of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said as follows : By EU, in 2015, directed countries in EU to reduce the number of plastic shopping bags to less than forty bags per person by the end of the year 2025. Following this rule, EU countries made rules that plastic bags are prohibited or chargeable in supermarkets. In America, depending on counties or cities, many supermarkets charge for shopping bags (even paper shopping bags). In Canada, as in Japan, they charge on shopping bags independently at retail stores.
In Japan, people have been trying to decrease the number of shopping bags self-independently even before related laws were introduced. At super-markets and drug-stores, people who decline shopping bags were given such benefits as getting points or being discounted ￥２- /bag. At convenient stores, however, they gave bags at free up to the last moment. On July 1, all the shopping bags became chargeable.
What people concern and pay attention now are: they do not like corona virus or other virus bacillus adhere to their “eco-bags” which they bring in and how long such bacillus will survive. I read web-site news by American Newspaper Company. According to the news, supermarkets in California have changed their rules saying “Do not bring in your eco-bags. We will give you bags (plastic or paper) free”. It is because they worry about adhesion of corona virus to eco-bags which customers bring. Actually, salespeople in supermarkets at Los Angeles and its southern county were infected by coronavirus. In California State, shopping bags have been chargeable since these several years and the culture in which people go shopping bringing their own eco-bags have been penetrated already. So, once the COVID-19 would be converged, people will bring in their eco-bags again.
According to a TV special program of “chargeable shopping bags” in Japan, coronavirus survives for four days on the surface of nylon bags which are glossy and can be wiped off. In case of cloth made, corona virus survives for one day. They did not tell about the influence of shopping bags on environment in this TV picture. They explained how managers and salespeople in supermarkets felt about their touching at eco-bags. In this program, customers, who brought in their own eco-bags and were asked whether they have washed bags, replied that they have never washed their eco-bags.
Plastic do not dissolve and never return to the nature. Once plastic flow into the sea and fish swallow them together with feed, plastic will be accumulated in fish bodies. When people know such tragic situations, we must stop using plastic bags regardless of coronavirus or others. There will be a way that they do not bring in coronavirus paying attention to sanitation. If people are afraid of the adherence of coronavirus on bags, it will be OK for them that they change bags every day. If they have only one bag, they can rotate plastic and paper bags alternately.
Only shopping bags are not everything for plastic wastes. According to the “Distribution News” mentioned above, as a reason why shopping bags became chargeable, eco bags, which are connected to the life of the people directly, can be used as an alternative for shopping bags. And in many countries in the world, they started working on shopping bags. Yes, only eco bags can be substituted for shopping bags at this moment and use of eco bags is the first and small step toward decreasing plastic wastes.
If chargeable shopping bags have started earlier than the COVID-19 in the world, peoples concern toward plastic waste would have been higher.
Xie Zhihai / Associate Professor, Kyoai Gakuen University
Translated by Kazuo Kawamura
English checked by Sabina Koirala