I’m actually scared of plastics and woke up in a panic about it in my food and water! It’s an overwhelming problem in Japan, but what can do about it?
Greta Thunberg says we need to act like our house is on fire to properly address the climate crisis and one key aspect is to change existing systems which are hugely problematic- plastic is a major one – so we should be acting like our bodies are filling with plastic which is terrifying and unfortunately true!
What is your Plastics Per Day PPD Input?
As we are surrounded by plastics all the time, it helps me to aim for a meal, or a drink, or even a snack when I can complete it free of plastic- it’s hard, but not impossible.
Start with a plastic-focused journal to self-audit
My morning coffee is waste-free once the grinds go into the coffee press as the grinds then go into the garden compost and back into the soil, but it still usually comes from a plastic container. There are coffee roasters in my area- I need to seek them out and refill my own tupperware container.
Morning rolls with fruit or miso soup is my go-to breakfast. Unfortunately most fruit in Japan comes wrapped in plastic, but I have found bags of rice and flour in paper bags. There is one shop in Hiroshima that sells fruit in bulk in boxes without plastic, I need to make an effort to drop in there at least once a week.
Lunch is salad sandwiches, or tofu and rice, or packaged curry, veggie burgers or noodles. Most of the ingredients are in plastic wrapping. Dinner and desserts are similarly challenging, anything readymade is plastic packaged, but basic ingredients are too- it’s overwhelming!
Social Media Promotion Shows Demand
If you find something without plastic packaging in Japan, share it and rave about it on your socials, tag the company or shop and add a hashtag for it, or add a google map link so others can find it. We are all searching for better options and can help to add soft-pressure to businesses to give us better plastic-free options if they see a demand for it.
Whenever I go shopping I try to buy products in reusable containers, or recyclable containers that have a recycle market value.
Does it have a Market Value to Recycle?
Market value is key as I discovered in Kamikatsu Japan and at Recology in San Francisco USA. At recycling centers, metal cans, aluminum, glass, paper, cardboard, and wood all has market value, but any plastic has zero market value. This negative value means you have to pay companies to take it from you since it cannot be recycled.
Now, in 2021 my aim is to decrease my Plastic Per Day (PPD). Like many of you proactive consumers, I am always looking to buy plastic-free items, or items in reusable containers. The supermarkets take back some of the trays from foods in the deli, so those are better choices than foods sold in a single-use plastic container. But the holy grail is to find a plastic-free, zero-waste shop, where you can buy just the product without a container at all (you fill up your own reusable container).
I aim to have at least 1 meal a day where I do not take something out of a plastic wrapper to eat it. I am often unsuccessful but I keep trying. Getting local vegetable deliveries wrapped in newspaper helps a lot, thanks to Nagaoka Farms, Nagano Naturally and Pitchfork Farms. Kansha Farms in Kagoshima also uses (imported) biodegradable packaging on their wheat flour and other products – this is a great step in the right direction in packaging – I hope to see it sold in Japan more, and used by more companies.
I have also found a fantastic miso that I love offered in a reusable miso paste container by the company. Traditional Kanemitsu Miso factory and shop will refill your container over and over again if you bring it back, so I know I can now, at least, make miso soup without plastics with local veggies and Kanemitsu miso paste. Now if I could just filter out the plastics from the water..
Baking at Home
Our family loves bread and I usually make rolls at least once a day for sandwiches, muffins or pancakes for breakfast, cookies for snacks. As two of us in the family are also trying to eat vegan, making baked goods involves flour, water, salt, yeast and sugar. At least the flour is available in paper bags from Costco and baking supply shops, but I am still searching for sugar, salt, and yeast in non-plastic containers. Now again, if I could just filter out the plastics from the water..
Manufacturers in Japan
Kowen Wang of Kayu Package is producing a wonderful wooden bento box. Kayu is one of only a few non-plastic package manufacturers in Japan creating beautiful wooden alternatives to the typical plastic or styrofoam lunch containers.
Ask About Sourcing
Once we start going back to restaurants again, we can ask how the ingredients are made- do the oyster farms use plastic tubing that is on every beach in Japan, and even gets as far as beaches in Hawaii? We want to #buylocal as much as possible, but if it’s imported in a recyclable container (metal/glass/paper), or biodegradable container that we can dig into our compost pile, it may be a better choice than a local plastic-wrapped version.
Katie O’Brien of Eco-De-Iko has great advice and tips for how to live a low-waste lifestyle. CC of Sustainable Living Tokyo is also active promoting events and daily solutions. Marisa Gelencser of Eco-Hachi Wraps and Eas-y Green Group also has great ideas to try.
MyEcoLife shopkeeper Alex St.Jean is also offering plastic-free shopping options you may not have thought of from dish brushes to razors.
Kimono upcycle designers Clementine Sandner who I collaborated with to make the MaskLet sends out her handcrafted designs without plastics via Etsy.
Victoria of Bikudesigns is another great example of how to send high-quality products without plastic packaging.
And the up and coming Ekolokal Website (and future App) will help users find more sustainable, zero-waste, organic and vegan options of shops and eateries across Japan soon.
Where does Japan’s Plastic end up?
Most plastic is incinerated at a higher temperature than other burnable garbage, and some is still exported to other Asian countries where it ends up in landfills and waterways.
There is a misconception that some plastic is recycled and the waste management facilities claim some of the burnt plastic qualifies as “recycle” because the fires create energy, but this doesn’t meet any basic requirement of recycling. 90% is burnt.
Even recycled plastic has to be broken down to be made into benches or other materials which cannot then be broken down and reused again. The problems we have with the amount of plastic already in the environment needs to be dealt with, but new (virgin) plastic is made and put into the environment every day.
Turn Off The Tap Of New Plastics is Priority Number One
Turning off this tap of new plastics should be our first aim – how do we do that? Choose products sold and made without plastic and promote plastic-free options on social media. Join cleanups and tag plastic-polluting companies on social media. We need to show there is a demand for plastic free options and a disdain for plastics to companies and the government.
Volunteer at a CleanUp or do an Impromptu CleanUp Anytime, Anywhere
As I have learned from organizing and joining cleanup events at riversides and beaches, once you pick plastic off of the coast you realize how big the problem is and how absolutely every type of plastic ends up in the water systems.
Volunteering helps change your every day consumer choices and behavior. After every cleanup I ask myself, do I really need that drink in a PET bottle that can’t be recycled and ends up in the waterway? Do I really need that plastic packaged snack or fruit? Maybe I need to go out of my way to find that shop that doesn’t package..
Alana Bonzi of SEGO Initiative in Fujisawa does beach cleanups and other events to promote understanding of ocean plastics. Robin Lewis and the good team at MyMizu do regular CleanUp events at beaches as well as promote places to refill your own water bottles with their free app.
In Hiroshima, we do CleanUps once a month, usually on every 3rd Sunday if the weather is good and there isn’t a Covid19 spike in the area. We usually hold our biggest cleanup of the year at one of Hiroshima’s beaches in July for International Ocean Day- here is one at Ganne Beach, on Etajima island.
You can see a bigger list of cleanup events across Japan on JEAN – Japan Environmental Action Network.
The Effect of Plastic in Our Body is Unknown
It’s frightening that there is so little discussion happening on the effect of plastics we are ingesting in our food and water every day. There is no way it will be beneficial in any way.
Aside from it clogging our waterways, and looking ugly, and killing marine life- we need to act like it’s an emergency for our health and safety. We need to act like plastic is poisoning us – because that is exactly what it is doing!
Need Personalized Advice for your Life or Business?
If you are feeling overwhelmed, please feel free to get in touch [inboundambassador [atmark] gmail.com] and let’s talk about and work on solutions for your personal situation.
Once I learn more about your life, area, and/or business I can cater specific advice that can give you practical solutions you can apply to not only reduce your plastics, but also reduce costs and improve your brand. Look forward to hearing from you!