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New Law Will Target Plastic, Glass Bottles

March 24, 1997

Recycled bottles can be "reborn" as clothes, shoes, and bags. (Photo: Jiji Gasho Sha, Inc.)

Starting in April 1997 a law will come into effect that will make it mandatory for all plastic and glass bottles discarded by households to be recycled. Municipal governments will be obliged to make separate collections of these bottles, and industry will be required to recycle or reuse them in new products. Little effort has been made until now to recycle or make separate collections of plastic bottles. But with the enforcement of the new law, construction of recycling factories for plastic bottles has begun. Some products made from recycled bottles are already being sold in stores, such as shirts, and the new law could spark a new market for recycled goods.

Recycling Plastic
Japan generates some 50 million tons of general waste every year. General waste, as distinguished from industrial waste, consists of the trash discarded by households, offices, and shops. The aim of the recycling law is to use discarded plastic bottles and other packaging materials in new products. Packaging waste currently constitutes 60% of total general waste by volume and 25% by weight.

The items whose recycling and reuse will become mandatory in April are glass and plastic bottles; the latter, particularly, are unlikely to recycled without legal inducements. Glass bottles will be collected according to color: clear, brown, or other. And from the year 2000, the recycling of plastic items besides bottles will also become mandatory.

The Japan Packaging Recycling Association, a foundation set up in autumn 1996 by 53 industry associations (including those for the beverage, bottle-making, and distribution industries), will pool the bottles collected by the municipalities and contract recycling firms to turn them into reusable materials.

Some 80% of the association's operating expenses (projected to be around 3 billion yen, or 25,000 dollars at 120 yen to the dollar, in the fiscal year starting in April 1997) will come from private businesses. The remaining 20% will be paid by municipal governments; this additional expenditure should be offset, however, by the savings they realize from reduced incineration and landfill costs.

The recycling of glass bottles is more advanced than that for plastic bottles. Approximately 60% of used glass bottles were collected in 1995, and most of them were used again as bottles.

Plastic bottles have the advantage of being lighter, easier to carry, and less fragile, and their use has spread rapidly. More than 170,000 tons of synthetic resin were consumed to make such bottles in 1995, three times the level of a decade earlier. While easy to use, plastic bottles are cumbersome to dispose of. They take up space and need to be treated before recycling. Most of them have thus far simply been thrown away. The real target of the new recycling law, therefore, is plastic bottles.

New Lease on Life
Many beverage and bottle makers have been taking steps to promote the recycling of plastic bottles in anticipation of the recycling law's enforcement. Six industry associations drew up a plan to jointly construct eight recycling factories around the country by 2005. One such factory in Tochigi Prefecture is already in operation, and a second in Mie Prefecture will soon be completed. Similar factories are expected to be built in each region of the country.

Since last year, textiles and other products made from reprocessed plastic bottles have begun appearing on store shelves. One synthetic fiber maker has been marketing shirts and other clothing as well as tents. Approximately one business shirt can be made from a single 1.5-liter bottle, but a tent requires some 80 bottles. Another textile manufacturer is using recycled bottles to make T-shirts and sweat suits as well as to manufacture and market school uniforms and blouses.

A leading mail-order house has introduced a line of casual wear created by a Kansai-based fashion designer. And a major automaker has developed soundproofing material with the processed bottles. Each car uses about 5 bottles' worth of this material, and the automaker claims that over 10 million bottles will be recycled as soundproofing by fiscal 2000.

Recycled bottles have also been used for parts of sneakers, as containers for recycled detergent, and as egg cartons.

As of 1995 only 120 of the approximately 3,300 municipalities in Japan collected plastic bottles separately. To promote full-scale recycling in Japan, many more local governments will have to start making separate collections of different types of waste and households will need to cooperate more fully with this endeavor.

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