Japan’s Trash Burning Culture Means Plastic Bags Aplenty

by Tim Fulton on June 26, 2009

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.

{ 1 trackback }

Tetsuya Ishida: una perturbadora visión de Japón | United Explanations
December 18, 2013 at 5:40 am


1 James March 8, 2011 at 12:13 am

Mayber you should visit Japan again (or for the first time.) Most places encourage you to bring your own bags and most groceries (the main culprit for plastic bags) actually charge you for each bag. Department stores give you paper bags, which most people actually reuse many times. In the US when you go to a grocery store or Wal Mart they put two or three items in a plastic bag and then reach for another one. At least in Japan they really try to limit the amount they use and the Japanese are very conscious of each plastic bag they use.

2 Joseph August 19, 2011 at 12:25 am

Actually, James, I am afraid it is you who are mistaken… about a great many things. I currently live in Wakayama, Japan and I can tell you that I have never been charged for a bag, nor have I witnessed a great deal of care the locals take into packing in as many groceries into each bag as they can. And as for Wal-Mart, may I be cursed for defending them, but they actually do offer very cheap, completely reusable bags made from natural materials, and they display them plainly at each register.
Mr. Jones, it is quite incredible that the US uses landfills unnecessarily. It is appauling to know that so much could be done, and yet none is. Thank you for the article.

3 kachonka September 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm

We can argue back and forth about it, but it 100 percent depends on what Island you are on to do a proper trash analysis. Some markets will jack up your price if you use their bags but it was never for polution reasons. It was because they had a cost incurred to purchase them for your use of their produce/product. Japan is no different than any other country when it comes to trash and waste. It all depends on the culture of the neighborhood, economical value of the area, rich-poor region, etc…

For some reason, a lot of military bases are always stationed near ghetto style living in America and abroad. Anywhere I have been as you travel the miles from one area to the next you can see what I call the TRASH CULTURE and it is usually in poor neighborhoods due to the lack of funds for trash removal.
That’s it.

Comments on this entry are closed.