Major retailers have begun to make efforts to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags, through such measures as charging for the bags, discounting the price of the purchase if customers do not use a bag or by distributing free, reusable shopping bags.

But, reports the Daily Yomiuri, retailers still worry that placing burdens on customers or making things inconvenient for them may drive shoppers away. The measures also hurt makers of plastic shopping bags.

Ito-Yokado Co.‘‘ s Wakabadai store in Yokohama began an experiment in May, charging 5 yen for a bag. On average, only 7-8 percent of customers refuse bags at Ito-Yokado stores, prompting the company to try charging for bags.

Aeon Co., which has already begun efforts to cut back on bags, started charging for bags as an experiment at its Jusco Higashiyama-Nijo store in Kyoto from January. Aeon said if such a system is not introduced company-wide, the number of the bags it uses is expected to reach 1.68 billion annually by fiscal 2010. Aeon plans to have about half of all its 390 stores, charge for bags, which it says could cut the number of bags to 840 million.

At the Higashiyama-Nijo store, the percentage of customers bringing their own shopping bags jumped to more than 80 percent, from 22 percent, after the charge went into effect.

Convenience stores, however, are cautious about charging for plastic bags. Unlike supermarket shoppers, many customers make unplanned stops at convenience stores, and plastic shopping bags are needed, for example, when buying a warmed bento meal. Convenience store chain Ministop Co. began giving 1 yen discounts at the cash register for customers who decline bags.

Lawson Inc. produced 100,000 reusable shopping bags suitable for carrying bento boxed meals and plastic bottles, and is distributing them for free.

The main reason retailers are suddenly so adamant about reducing plastic bags is that the revised Containers and Packaging Recycling Law went into full effect in April. Under the law, retailers above a certain scale are obligated to report to the government during April and June next year on their efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags.

According to the Environment Ministry, as many as 30 billion plastic bags are used in Japan every year, accounting for between 10 percent and 15 percent of household plastic waste. Reducing the use of plastic bags would greatly reduce this volume. Some retailers, however, worry that charging for bags would turn customers away. According to 2004 a survey on 10,000 people by the Japan Chain Stores Association, about 20 percent said if they were charged for bags, they would go to other stores.

Supermarket Summit Inc‘‘s Suginami Ward, Tokyo, store said the sales of heavy goods, such as rice and pet foods have dropped since it started charging for the bags in January.

The movement also is hurting makers of plastic shopping bags. According to the Japan Polyolefin Film Industry Trade Association, which plastic bag makers are a part of, shipments of bags in March dropped 13.7 percent from the same month last year, and marked the seventh consecutive month that the shipment has been below the same month a year before.

Plastic bags cost money. For stores, the choice of reducing the use of bags and charging for them will lead to cost reductions and profit increases. Supermarket chain Seiyu Ltd. used about 600 million bags at its 392 stores in 2006. The cost per bag is a little less than 2 yen, meaning the total yearly expense for plastic bags by the retailer is over 1 billion yen.

Retailers are trying to win over customers in the fight against plastic bag use. Aeon plans to use the revenue from charging for bags to promote recycling and environmental protection activities in cooperation with local governments.

Seiyu will give a discount of 2 yen, almost the same as the price the sto

Ano da Publicação:
WARMER BULLETIN ENEWS #24-2007-June 15, 2007
Kit Strange/Warmer Bulletin
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