First they came for the bags and I said “cool.” Then they came for the spoons and I said “sure, that’s cool too.”

Japan is often accused of overusing plastic such as excess packaging, but the government does appear to be listening and is taking steps to reduce single-use plastics in everyday life. Last year saw the biggest effort in a nationwide ban on free plastic bags given by conveniences stores, supermarkets, and restaurants. Instead an additional charge of three to ten yen (US$0.02 to $0.09) must be levied.

The move was initially met with resistance, but less than a year later, plastic bag use plummeted and eco-bag use shot up to over 70 percent. Taking things a step further, Kameoka City in Kyoto Prefecture banned stores from offering plastic bags, both free and for a fee, in January of this year.

It’s a considerable improvement, but the overall problem of plastic remains and more needs to be done. So, the Ministry of the Environment has crafted a new bill which targets the issuing of free plastic forks and spoons by convenience stores and other businesses. A range of other plastic items like hotel amenities are also included.

▼ Although not mentioned in reports, it is assumed the noble spork will also be affected as will the foon, if such a thing even exists

This bill, put forth by the cabinet on 9 March, is expected to go into effect in April of 2022 if approved by the Diet and will punish stores who give out free plastic spoons up to 500,000 yen (US$4,600). Environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi declared that “from then on, spoons will not be given out for free. This is an advanced version of the charge for plastic shopping bags.”

The reaction online was largely hostile. It appears that some people feel this is a sign of eroding customer service at the hands of an overreaching government regulation. Others seem to just really like spoons.

“Fine then. I won’t buy foods from convenience stores any more.”
“These tactics are just bullying the common people.”
“They just keep putting the screws to convenience stores.”
“I hate the regulation of customer service.”
“The same thing is just going to happen that did with the plastic bags.”

“Just take away all my options then, and tell me how I must eat.”
“Convenience stores won’t be able to do anything soon.”
“This is a stupid tactic that has no benefit but lots of disadvantages.”
“This is a good idea, isn’t it?”

Much like with plastic bags, spoons won’t be outlawed for the most part; rather, a charge in the neighborhood of five yen ($0.05) will be applied to those who really want one. Still, as some comments pointed out, without free plastic cutlery Japanese convenience stores will be left with little in the way of added customer services. All that will remain is banking, courier pick-up and drop-off, movie and event ticket sales, bill payments, high-quality photo and document printing, free Wi-Fi, and the occasional cancer screening.

So it’s easy to see how this will be a hard transition, but humanity has overcome tens of thousands of years of adversity from civilization-collapsing natural disasters to globe-spanning war. This might very well prove to be our darkest hour yet, but we’ll find a way to survive without free spoons from convenience stores…somehow.

Source: TV Asahi, Hachima Kiko, Kyoto Shimbun
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