Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

Trash Talk #1 – Belgium and Japan

This video is an interview I did with two intelligent and thoughtful young Belgian women about trash issues in their own community in Belgium and how they feel about waste issues in Japan.

At first, they say that in Belgium, at the moment, there is legislation being debated about banning certain plastics in addition to single-use plastic bags. They also mention that there are plastic packaging free shops in their area where foods are sold without any waste.

While traveling in Japan, they are impressed that everywhere is clean and tidy everywhere which is very different from their own country where there is a lot of litter on the ground. They say in Japan, from the city streets to the countryside and forest paths everywhere seem to be cleaned and so well maintained. This is often mentioned as an aspect of Japan’s overall appeal to travelers. On the other hand, international visitors often comment on the overuse of plastic bags as the woman in this video says, ‘Plastic in Plastic in Plastic.’

The key takeaway from this interview is that Japanese tourist destinations could benefit from reducing plastic bags and wrapping. This is something destination managers and anyone selling products and services to international visitors should be making a plan to decrease. Read more about the interviews I did with inbound visitors on Miyajima (4/2019) here.

One strategy to decrease plastic bags can be to follow the 3 step strategy below:

Stage 1: ASK – Do you need a bag?
Stage 2: FEE – charge a minimal fee for the bags
Stage 3: BAN – stop using any single-use plastic bags

3-step strategy to phase out plastic bags

Stage 1
According to the Nikkei Asian Review among other sources, even the process of asking a customer if they need a bag reduces the amount of bags used by 53%. This is a practice that could be applied across all shops in Japan right now without much effort or cost. There are actually cost savings for the stores as they don’t have to supply as many plastic bags.

Stage 2:
The Japanese government mandated a fee for use of plastic shopping bags, but the rule didn’t apply to convenience stores and smaller stores which pushed back against the rule. According to Inhabitat.com among other sources, plastic bag use can be reduced by over 90% when a small fee is put into place.

Stage 3:
Japan is one of the few advanced economies that has not banned plastic bags. World Atlas states that as of 2018, there are 59 countries which have banned single-use plastic shopping bags. New York is among other destinations in 2019 to make headlines for banning plastic bags.

Advice to shop owners and destination managers
Destination managers and shop owners in Japan can be confident that inbound visitors to Japan are very familiar and in fact expect plastic bags to either be banned or only be used with a fee. There will not be a hurdle in utilizing the three steps above with this market. In fact, it actually diminishes destination appeal and the overall made-in-japan branding when so much plastic is unnecessarily given to international travelers.

Traditional Innovation- Furoshiki is better than plastic:
Furoshiki traditional Japanese wrapping is a wonderful zero-waste alternative to cheap single-use plastics. Stores should stock only eco-bags as well as add FUROSHIKI material in their shops. A range of pricing from 100 yen to 3000 yen for high-quality Furoshiki would add to the product line-up. Especially for charming, culturally significant destinations like Miyajima and Kyoto, use of Furoshiki can add extra brand appeal to your business. There would certainly be a higher-sense of quality by the customers if using only made-in-japan Furoshiki.

International bath and cosmetics chain, LUSH, has been selling their products worldwide using FUROSHIKI as a part of their aim to cut out all plastics. This is such a beautiful and sustainable aspect of Japanese culture that should be embraced by all types of businesses in Japan. A customer buys a beautiful made-in-japan item and chooses their favorite design of Furoshiki wrapping for an extra fee, then enjoy watching the staff wrap their item in a beautiful way. I think the use of FUROSHIKI can elevate Japan’s overall brand.

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