Banning Plastic Bags: Greenwashing or Not?

As the world comes into conclusion that climate change is turning the world into a place of mass destruction in the near future, we see an influx in the amount of protest to stop climate change, with the 16-year-old Greta Thunberg being the voice of the current generation. People have taken it into their own hands to reduce their carbon footprint, or their total emissions of carbon dioxide, by creating alternative ways to save the planet, either by having a vegan diet or choosing to ride a bicycle instead of riding a car. Now, different countries are contributing to the cause, with using alternative ways to reduce their carbon footprint, either by using renewable resources instead of using fossil fuels as their energy source or by banning the use of plastic containers for establishments and businesses. It has gotten to a point that plastic bags have been banned in certain countries, with Japan now implementing this change in 2020.

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Japan: plastic made materials at its prime

Living in Tokyo and coming from a country where single-use plastics are banned, the sudden shift using plastic straws instead of paper ones and using plastic grocery bags instead of paper bags, makes me think of what kind of monstrosity is Japan really up to. With more countries changing their ways to be more environmentally friendly, why are the trash from plastic in Japan so abundant that you can have a trashcan filled with these in less than a week?

Now Japan is aiming to reduce its plastic waste by slowly incorporating the “no plastic bags” movement, with supermarket chains taking the lead by charging 20 yen per plastic bag, a push for consumers to stop using these plastic bags, but is it really helping or is it another opportunity for them to gain more money?

Greenwashing

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Greenwashing, a term to describe the misleading claims of companies and establishments about their products, services, or technology as environmentally friendly, using the eco-friendly tactic to further their monetary gains in the market. With this in mind, how can asking for payment for each plastic bag to discourage shoppers to stop using it is an act of greenwashing?

Imagine an office worker, who works from 9 am to 6 pm, end their shift late, and runs hurriedly to the supermarket to buy groceries before it closes, grabbing the necessities and then checking out. At the counter, the cashier says that each plastic bag cost 20 yen and asked if they would like to purchase one, the office worker, who didn’t bring a bag would naturally say yes since there’s no place to put the groceries in.

These encounters are just examples of numerous instances of people not having a choice but to purchase a bag since they’re already accustomed to using these. However, other people choose to purchase one, with the intent to use these bags as their trash bags. These instances definitely defeat the purpose of what it’s aiming and the use of plastic bags seems like it remains stagnant instead of decreasing.  

A Better Solution

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The “no plastic bags” solution is prone to greenwashing; however, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good solution. The solution needs to have some improvement for the cause to further its aim in Japan. There are three ways on how to improve this solution: First, for these establishments to provide an alternative place to put their purchased goods, either a paper bag or a box, for customers to opt not to buy a plastic bag. These customers would most likely choose an option where they would spend less, essentially lowering the number of plastic bags sold. These establishments can also sell eco-bags if the customers would prefer a sturdier place to put their goods. Second, Japan must make biodegradable bags accessible to buy anywhere, from 100 yen stores to grocery stores. To change the customers' way of thinking of buying grocery bags for the intent of it as a trash bag, they can opt to buy biodegradable bags instead, which would cost less, comes in packs, and is environmentally friendly. Lastly, Japan has to make consumers be aware of these changes. There isn’t much knowledge about the benefits of lessening their consumption of plastic bags, especially since these do not disintegrate immediately and would somehow end up in bodies of water, which would harm the marine ecosystem.

For the readers out there, it might seem hard to refuse plastic bags, but if you can please do. When you go to a conbini or convenience store, just say “iranai desu” or “no plastic bag please” if you see them putting your drink in a small bag. Trust me, you can live without it. 

Read more: https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Is-Japan-eco-friendly-or-eco-hostile