Flex-Pack & Recycling in Japan

This third article in a series on the impact of international solid waste laws on converters examines Japan's recycling requirements for container and packaging wastes, in light of an ambitious effort to convert the country into a “recycling-oriented society.”

Facing significant shortages in available waste disposal capacity (the government estimated only 3.9 years of industrial landfill space remained), Japan sought to reduce waste and improve its material balance by increasing recycling of its limited resources. The Basic Law for Promoting the Creation of a Recycling-Oriented Society (the Basic Law), which was enacted in May 2000, is an ambitious attempt to create an industrial system that maximizes resource efficiency through waste minimization and recycling.1

Unlike extended producer responsibility (EPR) initiatives in Europe and Canada, the Basic Law envisions government, industry, and consumers will share the responsibility for creating the recycling-oriented society, “with the expenses for such measures shared properly and fairly among them.”2

Reflecting its essentially economic nature, the Basic Law confers implementing authority to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), rather than the Ministry of the Environment. By 2010, METI intends Japanese industry to have achieved significant improvements to Japan's material flow balance by:3

  • Producing approximately 390,000 yen worth of goods/ton of resources (up approximately 40% from fiscal year 2000);
  • Increasing the national recycling rate by 40% from 2000 levels to approximately 14%;
  • Reducing the rate of final disposal by half from 2000 levels to approximately 28 million tons; and
  • Reducing Japan's per capita waste discharge volume by 20% and doubling market opportunities for recycling-based businesses.

METI also administers the Law for the Promotion of Effective Utilization of Resources (Resources Law), which sets out the requirements for implementing EPR principles and waste minimization, or “3R activities,” which are prescribed in the following order of priority: (1) reduction of waste generation, (2) reuse of parts, (3) material recycling.4 The Resources Law requires ten designated industries and manufacturers of 69 products, representing approximately 50% of Japan's municipal and industrial waste, implement 3R from the design phase and throughout a product's lifecycle.

The Resources Law also requires manufacturers to reuse recycled paper and glass packaging and containers to the fullest extent possible. In addition, manufacturers must label products sold in steel and aluminum cans, PET bottles, and paper and other plastic containers and packaging to promote consumer recycling. While the Resources Law does not apply to importers, METI has expressed the need to address imported goods in the same manner as domestic products, to further reduce the environmental load on the country. METI currently is considering whether it could revise the Resources Law to extend 3R design requirements to imported products.

Imported products are subject, however, to the Law for Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling of Containers and Packaging (Packaging and Container Recycling Law). The law applies to glass containers, PET bottles, and paper and plastic containers and wrapping used to package merchandise “ultimately consumed at home” and disposed of in the household solid waste stream. Packages used for “supply of services,” i.e., dry cleaning bags, are exempt.

Manufacturers and importers of regulated packaging and containers, and the businesses that use them, must recycle the container and packaging wastes by either setting up their own collection system or by paying an annual recycling fee to the Japan Containers and Packaging Recycling Assn., which is authorized by the Japanese government to administer the recycling program. Manufacturers with annual sales totaling less than 240 million yen or with less than 20 employees, or retailers and wholesalers with annual sales totaling less than 70 million yen or with less than 5 employees, are exempt.

The Packaging and Container Recycling Law recognizes consumer product prices must reflect the costs of the recycling program and commits the government to efforts to ensure the public “accepts and cooperates in this legislation…to contribute to the smooth and correct reflection of these costs in prices.”

In today's global marketplace, these evolving requirements aimed at reducing solid waste are important considerations for converters, their suppliers, and their customers.

  1. Law No. 110 of 2000.

  2. Law No. 110 of 2000, art. 4.

  3. METI, Handbook on Resource Recycling Legislation and 3R Trends in 2003, March 2004.

  4. Law No. 110 of 2000, arts. 5-7. Proper disposal should be a last resort where the other methods cannot reduce the environmental load of wastes effectively.

Sheila A. Millar, a partner with Keller and Heckman LLP, counsels both corporate and association clients. Contact her at 202/434-4143; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; PackagingLaw.com.

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