Some people in Japan just don’t want to part ways with individually wrapped candy.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a rice cracker or biscuit from Japan, you’ve probably marvelled at the subtle flavour, the delicate attention to detail…and all the extra plastic packaging. That’s because a large majority of multi-pack snacks come individually wrapped, largely catering to Japan’s custom of buying edible omiyage (souvenir) gifts for work colleagues to share after a trip away.

While it may feel nice to give and receive individually wrapped morsels, all that extra plastic isn’t doing Mother Nature any favours. However, Mother Nature has found an ally in a Japanese private high school student in Tokyo, who recently decided to make a change by starting a petition to end excessive plastic packaging.

The 16-year-old student called out chocolate maker Bourbon and Kameda Seika, a leading rice cracker manufacturer, as the biggest culprits, saying the excess waste came to her attention after she and her family ate an increased number of their products while staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

▼ Bourbon’s lineup of popular biscuits are all individually packaged.

The student says she was sorting out the plastic recycling with her mother one day when she was shocked to see the amount of plastic food packaging their family of five went through. After sorting the plastic waste, more reappeared the next day, and after reading about the environmental problems it could cause, especially to oceans and marine life, she decided to start a Change.org petition aimed at the two snack brands.

▼ The plastic waste from a pack of Kameda Seika’s Happy Turn crackers.

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The petition asking the two brands to put an end to excess plastic packaging was posted on 13 May and has since received over 18,400 signatures as of this writing. Despite the overwhelming support, however, the student still received backlash from people quite happy to keep with old habits.

“My grandmother likes to give these to visitors so the individual wrapping is convenient for her when she has guests over.”
“Older people don’t eat as many snacks as younger people so they don’t waste as much packaging.”
“It keeps the food safe and it’s hygienic, what’s not to like?”
“If the plastic tray insert is removed, the crackers will crack — is that what you want?”
“She’s probably too young to know about the Glico Morinaga incident.”

The Glico Morinaga incident refers to an unsolved extortion case affecting confectionery brands Glico and Morinaga from 1984 to 1985. The culprit claimed to have laced Glico confections with potassium cyanide, causing the company to pull products from sale, costing them millions of dollars.

To this day, many people believe the individual packaging used in Japanese snack products is a direct result of this incident. However, that theory has been debunked by a number of researchers, who point out that while products were initially packaged in extra thick plastic as a precautionary measure after the incident, the thin plastic used nowadays provides no protection against being pierced with poisoned syringes.

While the debate around plastic packaging heats up in Japan, the student who started the petition will be presenting the signatures to Bourbon and Kameda Seika on 28 and 29 July. Environmental issues and ideas for future packaging will be discussed at the meeting.

According to a spokeperson at Kameida Seika, the company agrees that they should reduce plastic waste and are currently promoting new packaging that doesn’t include the flat plastic tray insert. A spokesperson at Bourbon says they aim to switch over to plant-based “plastics” in future.

It’s good to see the conversation around plastic waste is having its time in the limelight in Japan, thanks to a high school student from Tokyo. Perhaps big confectionery manufacturers can now make moves to follow in the footsteps of Nestle, who switched to paper packets for KitKats that can be recycled into origami cranes.

Or maybe they can simply make more use of boxes that can be turned into stunning works of art by crafty individuals.

Sources: Yahoo! News (1, 2) Jin (1, 2), Change.org
Featured image: Pakutaso

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