Two years ago when I lived in Japan for a brief period I wondered why plastic bags were so common. Recycling was in full swing and houses were adorned with solar water and photovoltaics.
So what was with all the plastic bags? Bags for the smallest purchases to the biggest. No one brought their own and no one seemed to question it. While bags are generally used sparingly and come in a variety of sizes to best fit whatever you are putting in them, two years later, the Japanese are still using tons of plastic bags.
I tried to think about why this was. Even America, which comes late to the party for just about everything green, is beginning to ban plastic bags and encourage consumers to quit using them. However, in Japan, when I go to the bread store I still get one plastic bag filled with other bags individually containing my purchases.
In the U.S. we are told our bags go to landfills where they will exist for hundreds of years, poisoning the ground and preventing other things from decomposing naturally. The Japanese plastic bag has a slightly different fate.
From the time it hits the trash and is carted off it does not go to a landfill, it goes to an incinerator where it is burnt up into nothingness, as if it never existed. So, despite Japan’s love affair with the plastic bag, you don’t see them tumbling around in the streets, caught in trees, or clogging up landfills.