Govt Plans to Make Manufacturers Set Targets for Recycled Plastic Use; Overseas Market Loss Possible Without Recycled Plastic

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

Manufacturers that use large amounts of plastic will be required under a planned revised law to set targets for recycled plastic usage and to report the actual amount used, it has been learned.

The move to strengthen regulations on plastic use is aimed at promoting decarbonization, as most used plastic collected in Japan is incinerated. According to sources, the government plans to revise the Law for Promotion of Effective Utilization of Resources as early as in the ordinary Diet session next year.

The existing law only sets forth an effort-based obligation to use recycled plastic without enumerating targets. An expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is expected this month to compile an interim report including the requirement to set target volumes and to submit reports periodically.

Industries that cross a certain threshold for plastic usage will be subject to the tighter regulations. According to the ministry and other sources, industries to be designated as being subject to the new regulations will likely be package and container makers, electronic device manufacturers, automakers and construction material makers.

The planned revised law will require each industry to formulate guidelines for expanding the use of recycled plastic. Companies will refer to the guidelines when setting targets. The planned revised law will also require companies to report the actual amount of recycled plastic used and related ministries will recommend or demand improvements if the companies’ efforts are insufficient. Penalties will also be considered if a company fails to comply with the orders. The planned revised law will be enforced within a few years so that the parties concerned have enough time to become familiar with it.

Currently, most collected plastic is used as fuel for power generation and other purposes. Some is exported overseas, and less than just 10% is reused to make other products in Japan. Burning plastic is problematic because it emits a large amount of carbon dioxide.

The European Union is tightening regulations on the use of plastic, requiring that by around 2030 at least 25% of plastic used in the production of new cars must be recycled plastic. If Japan is slow in taking measures to promote the use of recycled plastic, Japanese products are at risk of being shut out of overseas markets.

Many countries are taking steps to create a so-called circular economy, in which plastics and metals are reused.