(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to the defense of plastics, even as much of the world seeks to restrict its use amid environmental concerns.
“We shouldn’t treat plastic as an enemy, nor ostracize those who use it,” Abe said in a speech Sunday to a meeting of the Science and Technology in Society Forum in the Kyoto, according to a transcript published on the website of the prime minister’s office. “What’s needed is appropriate management of trash and to search for solutions through innovation.”
Japan is the world’s third-largest exporter of plastic waste, according to the Japan External Trade Organization. But its waste has begun to push the limits of domestic storage sites since China stopped accepting plastic trash shipments last year, according to an Environment Ministry survey.
Referring to a June pledge from the Group of 20 meeting in Osaka on tackling the problem of plastic waste in the ocean, Abe said: “One thing I’m happy about is that it made clear the important role plastic plays in society.
“We should be proud of some of the great discoveries of the 20th century,” Abe said. “Plastic is among them, and if it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t be able to package fresh food in convenient forms to be lined up on supermarket shelves.”
Japan is the world’s second-largest per capita consumer of disposable plastics after the U.S., and has fallen behind many other advanced and developing nations in terms of regulating their use, JETRO said. Plastic straws and single-use plastic cutlery and plates will be completely prohibited in the European Union by 2021, for example. India launched a campaign to reduce use of such items this month.
International corporations are also responding to consumer pressure over plastic waste, with Unilever pledging to halve its use of newly made plastic.
Japan exported more than a million tons of plastic waste in 2018, with Malaysia and Thailand among the top destinations, according to JETRO.
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