What are the possible solutions to the over-packaging problem in Japan? The most widespread solution is replacing plastic with eco-friendly and degradable materials and thereby increasing the level of recycling. For instance, there is a bioplastic that might serve as a substitute for conventional plastic. The Japanese government has announced a new plan aimed to reduce disposable plastic waste by 25% over the next decade. It proposed to use bioplastic which is made from plants. However, this material has its own pros and cons. On the one hand, experts highlight that it can increase emissions of greenhouse gases. Bioplastic ends up in landfill sites, where it degrades without oxygen, releasing methane. Extensive use of bioplastic can also contribute to the global food crisis, as its production requires large areas of land that previously was used to grow crops for human consumption. On the other hand, degradable bioplastic is made from renewable resources instead of oil, and the latter is known to be very limited. Furthermore, bioplastic can contribute to resource efficiency. Recycled bio-based plastics can be used for generating renewable energy. It thereby might be an alternative to conventional plastic. But the question of whether it is eco-friendly remains debatable.
Another alternative packaging material is paper. Paper is recyclable and made from wood which is renewable. Nippon Paper Group has started the campaign under the slogan of “let the paper do what it can do”. The aim is to “paperise” products that paper could substitute for, and plastic bags are number one on the list. The company noted that with a growing concern over the marine pollution caused by disposable plastic, demand for reusable and biodegradable packaging is increasing. However, the paper also has drawbacks for the environment. According to certain studies, paper production emits air pollution and consumes more energy than the production of plastic bags. It also causes deforestation which is an issue of the day in conditions of climate change. Furthermore, the process of recycling paper is inefficient, because it consumes more fuel than it would take to make a new bag.
On the whole, alternative materials such as bioplastics and paper may be a solution to the overuse of plastic packaging. Yet people cannot fully rely on these substitutes. From an economic point of view, bio-based plastics and paper are more expensive, as their production processes are more complicated and time-consuming. Manufacturers and service providers, considering the increase in costs, are not likely to switch to these alternative materials with enthusiasm.