The amount of plastic in everyday life
Japan is obsessed with presentation. Food, gifts, and some other consumer products have to look beautiful and attractive, and many of these are indeed designed around the idea that you will hand them to someone as a present — omiyage or souvenir culture is huge here, after all. This also extends to products that major companies sell to consumers. Wrapping and tying is an art in and of itself, and is considered a representation of one’s feelings towards the recipient. You will see it with bento boxes, hotel gifts, and everything in between.
This attention to detail and consideration towards others can be laudable from a Western perspective, where the content is often more important than the context.
However, there is on issue I want to bring attention to with this aspect of Japanese culture, and that is the amount of plastic being used in everyday life. This is one of the things that struck me as odd when I first came to the country. If you live in or have visited Japan, you know what I’m talking about.
Say you go to a supermarket because you want o buy some apples. If you’re in Europe you pick some apples, put them all in a thin plastic bag, weigh them and pay by the kilo. In Japan, you have four apples, individually wrapped in plastic, on a plastic tray, covered in plastic, then put in a plastic bag. If you buy some yogurt, they put in a couple of plastic spoons without asking. If you buy drinking yogurt, they put in a plastic straw. If you buy some cookies, you open the box only to find out that the cookies are individually wrapped in plastic. If you want to eat ten cookies, you have to open ten packages!
Every Japanese produces 106 kilos of plastic per year on average, second in the world (behind the US) and above other Asian countries like China. You may say, well, at least most of it is recycled. This is also not a great consolation, since most of the “recycled” plastic is just burned for energy — yes, burning plastic is considered recycling! The amount of plastic in oceans around Japan is 27 times higher than the worldwide average. Japan does great in other environmental areas (public transportation usage, for instance), so it’s all the sadder to see.
While some measures have been taken as of late (more places charge you for plastic bags), the sight of unneeded plastic spoons in your plastic bag full of plastics packages hasn’t gone away. All we can do is to try to consume less plastic ourselves. The local convenience store clerk already knows that I don’t need a straw.
Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” firstname.lastname@example.org “, by all means contact me about anything!
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