- 77 per cent of Japanese people think plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time
- 80 per cent think their Government should be doing more to tackle plastic pollution, with 83 per cent believing legislation is important to do so
- 66 per cent think Japan should take leadership in promoting a new UN plastics treaty, with 68 per cent believing legally binding commitments will be more effective than voluntary ones
- The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) appeals to the Government of Japan to listen to expert advice and the international community on plastic pollution
LONDON: While two out of three Japanese citizens want a new international treaty to tackle the escalating problem of plastic pollution, their Government is reluctant to commit.
Instead, it wants to rely on voluntary initiatives – but as the G7 meeting in Cornwall looms this weekend, London-based international NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is warning that this is nowhere near enough and urges the Government to sign up to back a global plastics treaty.
A new poll of 2,000 people conducted by Censuswide revealed high levels of concern over the human and environmental impact of plastic pollution, a lack of confidence in the Japanese Government’s recycling rhetoric and a strong desire for lawmakers to act.
The data reveals critical concerns from a country whose Government is yet to commit to a proposed UN treaty to tackle this devastating environmental threat, despite overwhelming global support.
With the G7 leaders set to meet this week, momentum is rapidly growing for a legally binding UN treaty to combat plastic pollution, which is destroying ecosystems and is a growing threat to both human and environmental health.
More than two-thirds of UN member states have declared support for a global agreement on plastics, yet the Japanese Government remains a strong proponent of voluntary initiatives and has not yet indicated its position on a global legally binding approach.
Japan produces 9.4 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, with the average Japanese person generating 37kg of single-use plastic waste in 2019 alone. About 12 per cent is exported (some 90 per cent to developing countries), 67 per cent is incinerated and eight per cent dumped in landfill.
However, following language that emerged from the G7 Environment Ministers’ meeting on 21 May, there are no expectations that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will express support for a treaty at the G7 summit in Cornwall, UK on 11-13 June.
Promising news appeared last week, with the Government putting pressure on businesses to reduce plastic waste by obliging restaurants and retailers to reduce use of disposable items such as spoons and straws. However, the EIA survey showed there was a clear lack of faith in companies and lawmakers to tackle plastic waste through recycling.
Japan has not expressed support for a legally binding treaty and has instead been a strong advocate for the Osaka Blue Ocean Vision, which aims to “reduce additional plastic pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050” – but this approach would rely on voluntary Government and business initiatives rather than an international legal framework.
On this issue, Japanese public opinion is clear – 66 per cent believe Japan should be supporting a global treaty to tackle plastic pollution and 61 per cent feel the situation will only worsen if countries do not agree to work together at the UN.
Christina Dixon, EIA Ocean Campaigns Deputy Leader, said: “Japanese citizens clearly feel that preventing pollution isn’t simply a consumer responsibility. They are pushing back on the popular narrative that the individual must take all the blame while big business and the Government get a free pass on churning out huge volumes of single-use plastics with little long-term vision on how to regulate plastic in the economy.”
Despite claiming to ‘recycle’ 84 per cent of its plastic waste, data shows that 67 per cent of Japan’s plastic waste was incinerated in 2018, releasing harmful toxins into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Furthermore, Japan is far outpacing other G7 countries in plastic waste exports to developing countries, which amounted to 753,000 tonnes in 2020.
Dixon added: “There are some positive noises coming out of the domestic policy agenda in Japan, including the new single-use plastics legislation and targets to increase recyclability. This begs the question, why not take the next logical step and support a global treaty which will comprehensively tackle plastic throughout its lifecycle?
“This piecemeal approach of product bans and substitutions for other single-use items will not turn the tide on plastic pollution. We implore Yoshihide Suga to speak out and join the other G7 nations already in support of a treaty – for the Japanese people, for all global citizens and for the health of our planet.”
CONTACTS FOR MEDIA
- Christina Dixon, EIA Ocean Campaigns Deputy Leader, via christinadixon[at]eia-international.org
- Sarah Dickinson, EIA Ocean Communications Consultant, via sarahdickinson[at]eia-international.org
- Paul Newman, EIA Senior Press & Communications Officer, via press[at]eia-international.org
- The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.
- The research was conducted by Censuswide, with 2,009 general respondents in Japan between 26 May to 03 June 2021. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society, which is based on the ESOMAR principles.
- EIA is calling for a dedicated global framework – a legally binding Treaty on Plastic Pollution – that addresses the full lifecycle of plastics from production and product design to waste prevention and management. What is needed is an adaptive framework that coordinates global action while catalysing national action, one that is responsive to science and national circumstances, with mechanisms and structures in place to operationalise and institutionalise commitments.
- Countries will meet at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in February 2022 to decide whether to commence negotiations on a plastics treaty. Before then, there are several critical milestones, including the G7 and G20, where countries have the opportunity to build momentum and consensus on this important issue.
- Read EIA’s report on the need for a global plastics treaty at https://eia-international.org/report/convention-on-plastic-pollution-toward-a-new-global-agreement-to-address-plastic-pollution/
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