Use of Recycled Plastics: Japan Should Take Global Lead in Technological Innovation

The significance of efforts to recycle used plastics is growing worldwide. It is hoped that Japan’s public and private sectors will work together to accelerate research and development of recycling technologies and lead the world in the field.

The government has announced a policy that requires manufacturers that use large amounts of plastics to set targets for recycled plastics use and to regularly report how much recycled plastics they actually used, in order to promote the use of such materials. If their efforts are insufficient, the government intends to recommend or order that they make improvements.

Target industries are expected to include those for packaging and containers, automobiles, and electric and electronic devices. The government aims to revise the related law during next year’s ordinary Diet session.

The transition to a circular economy, in which products and resources are used for as long as possible and waste is reduced as much as possible, is a global issue. The government’s measures to promote recycling are appropriate.

The government’s efforts are also significant in terms of decarbonization. About 70% of used plastics are incinerated as fuel for power generation, thereby emitting carbon dioxide. So recycling of used plastics can lead to a decrease in CO2 emissions.

The use of recycled materials is gaining momentum internationally and is also positioned as a growth industry.

Companies such as Nestle SA of Switzerland and Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. of the United States have set numerical targets and are stepping up recycling efforts. The European Union is reportedly planning to mandate around 2030 that at least 25% of the plastic in new cars be made from recycled materials.

If Japanese companies fall behind amid growing environmental awareness globally, their competitiveness could decline.

Currently in Japan, only about 25% of used plastic is being recycled and there is much room for expansion.

The challenge is that when used plastics are recycled, impurities are mixed in during the process, resulting in inferior quality and durability. The complexity of the process and higher prices of recycled plastics are also said to hinder their widespread use.

For this reason, chemical manufacturers and the automobile industry, among others, are working to improve the quality of recycled plastics. The government needs to encourage such research and development.

Japanese recycling technology is attracting attention overseas.

Last year, a Japanese startup agreed to build a recycling plant in the United Arab Emirates that will chemically break down plastic bottles and other materials so they can be used as raw materials. More examples like this would expand commercial opportunities for Japanese companies and contribute to the international community.

It is also important to reduce the amount of plastics used in the first place. It is hoped that efforts will be made to develop alternative materials that do not use petroleum as a raw material.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 10, 2024)