Niigata companies work toward plastic-free society

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Biomass plastic spoons and chopsticks are seen in Niigata Isetan’s employee cafeteria on April 14.

NIIGATA — Colorful and stylish spoons and tiny sake cups line the shelves of the “Niigata Eppin” booth, which sold a collection of made-in-Niigata items at the Niigata Isetan department store in Chuo Ward in mid-April. The tableware was all made of biomass plastic that contains rice as a raw material.

Biomass Resin Minamiuonuma Co. uses rice grown in the prefecture to produce spoons and straws as well as municipally-designated garbage bags and plastic bags at post offices. Inedible old rice or rice cracked in the process of milling are mixed with petroleum-based plastic to produce biomass plastic. The process helps reduce the use of petroleum-based plastics and also cuts carbon dioxide emitted when plastic is incinerated.

To meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many companies in Niigata Prefecture are working to reduce plastic waste such as by using cracked rice to make tableware or developing edible straws.

“We want to make use of the prefecture’s resources to contribute to SDGs,” Biomass Resin Minamiuonuma Co.’s spokesperson said.

In cooperation with the company, Niigata Isetan Mitsukoshi Ltd. has adopted biomass plastic for its gift bags. On top of sales at the Niigata Eppin booth, some restaurants and cafes in the department store have switched to biomass plastic straws, while biomass plastic chopsticks and noodle spoons are used at its company cafeteria.

“While taking advantage of department stores being natural gathering spots, we want to give people food for thought about environmental conservation and SDGs,” said Niigata Isetan Mitsukoshi President Nobuki Makino.

Confectionery maker Bourbon Corp. is working toward eco-friendly products by simplifying packaging, using eco-friendly materials and even developing edible straws.

Bourbon, based in Kashiwazaki, stopped using plastic trays for its four brands including Tennen Kobo no Kurakka (crackers containing wild yeast) in January, as well as Chizu Okaki (cheese sandwich rice crackers) in March. The company went through much trial-and-error to find the right sizes and shapes of their packages to keep the fragile snacks from cracking when shipped. The tray-free items are expected to reduce plastic used by about 60 tons every year.

Bourbon even created a rolled wafer called Corone Cookie, which can be an alternative to disposable plastic straws. It devised the materials and molding method to make the cookie water-resistant so people can use them in their drinks. The “straw” can last for about 20 minutes in a cold beverage, and are used at the city’s cafes as well as at a leading company that runs cafes nationwide.

Idea Sekikawa Co., a metal processing manufacturer in Tsubame, has been selling washable aluminum and stainless-steel straws since 2015. Sales have increased year by year, driven by the trend to create a plastic-free world.

“We want to make use of our craftmanship to produce eco-friendly items,” said the company’s managing director, Tomoki Sekikawa.

Niigata City-based Suzuki Coffee, which operates five cafes in the prefecture, uses straws made from sugar cane and other plant-derived materials in all of its stores.