A world-wide debate about the dangers of plastic pollution has led to the introduction of stricter laws in many countries. Japan seems to lag behind so far, but consumers can start reducing the use of plastics in many ways. Many people already bring their cloth bags to the supermarket when you go shopping. In some shops, you get a 2 Yen reduction on the price, but if everyone was serious about it, and the amount raised to 10 Yen or even more, the effect would be immediate.
In the Sugiura household, we tried to reduce the amount of plastic wrapping for food. It wasn’t an immediate success as not everyone went along with the plan. However, little steps can have remarkable consequences. Consumers Union of Japan is asking readers and members to contribute with their own creative proposals.
Essay: The Bizarre World of Plastics
When plastic materials were first discovered, they were brittle and fragile. Thus, a number of additives and “plasticizers” were introduced to counter the effects of ultraviolet light and make the materials more flexible and useful. Flame retardants were introduced as well. By the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, plastic pollution intensified. Plastic materials must be disposed of, making the garbage problem severe. In Tokyo, the toxic air pollution from the Yume-no-shima incinerators created health problems as increasing amounts of trash were thrown away by consumers.
No thought went into what would happen to plastic materials that were left in the environment. The degradation takes time. Plastic materials basically just turn into smaller plastic fragments. It becomes an invisible danger as animals ingest the fragments, even entering the human food chain. In spite of this, the makers of plastic materials, including Showa Denko, Mitsubishi Chemical, BASF and Du Pont, claim that their novel products are bio-degradable. This has led to the rather bizarre state of the world we are now facing, where the idea that plastics can simply be thrown away has been increasingly promoted.
By Amagasa Keisuke, CUJ
Participants: Consumers Union of Japan & Food Safety Citizens’ Watch
CUJ & Food Safety Citizens’ Watch held an emergency meeting on November 10, 2016 to discuss the emerging problems with the planned move of Tokyo’s wholesale fish market from Tsukiji to Toyosu. We demand that Tokyo Metropolitan Governor Yuriko Koike should definitely cancel the move to the heavily polluted Toyosu Island in Tokyo Bay. We have followed this debate closely since 2006 and wish Mrs. Koike would listen to the voices of concerned consumers. At our meeting, we adopted a resolution highlighting the importance of food and to never allow a polluted place to become a market where food is handled.
Resolution: “We demand that the move to Toyosu Island is definitely cancelled for the sake of food safety and peace of mind”
Tsukiji Market is the world’s largest. We take pride in it being a place known as “Japan’s kitchen” and regard the move of the market to Toyosu as not only being a problem for the citizens of Tokyo. Continue reading Emergency Meeting: Definitely Cancel the Planned Move of the Tsukiji Fish Market to Toyosu!
Writers Winnifred Bird and Elizabeth Grossman has written a very interesting article about the pollution issues and potential health effects in Tohoku. They note that damage to the region’s industrial facilities has been extensive:
Oil refineries burst into flames in the days after the disaster, sending black smoke billowing into the air. Sewer and gas lines burst, and old electrical equipment containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) was washed away. Petro- and agrochemical plants, iron foundries, steel works, and automotive, electronics, food processing, paper, plastics, and pharmaceutical plants were among those that suffered damage. As cleanup continues in the disaster area, questions remain about the fate of chemical contaminants released by these damaged industrial facilities and other sources, and the environmental health hazards they might pose to the hundreds of thousands of people living and working in this area.
Read the entire report for more details.
Bird WA, Grossman E, 2011 Chemical Aftermath: Contamination and Cleanup Following the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. Environ Health Perspect 119(7). (July 1, 2011)
Consumers Union of Japan and the Food Safety Citizens’ Watch are involved in the efforts to get to the bottom of the proposed move of Tsukiji, Tokyo’s famous fish market. FSCW notes that the new site at Toyosu is an old factory site in Koto Ward once operated by Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd.
This 40 hectares site was found to be heavily polluted with carcinogenic benzene at levels some 43,000 times higher than permitted, and cyanide compounds found to be some 800 times higher than levels considered safe. Levels of other toxins such as arsenic, lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium were also found to be high at the Toyosu site. Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd. operated the plant at Toyasu from 1956 to 1976 to produce city gas from coal. The soil and ground water pollution is a serious side-effect from the industrial manufacturing process.
The Wholesales Co-operatives of Tokyo Fish Market has voted against the relocation as details about the soil contamination were made public. Fish market officials feel that they cannot guarantee the safety of the food in case the market is moved. They have set up the Association to Study Tsukiji Market, and are asking everyone in Tokyo to participate in the campaign against the relocation.
“We can only note here that many questions have been ignored about the proposed new site. The authorities are considering spending an enormous amount of money on decontaminating the soil, but there are no concrete data about safe levels. This is not just a problem for Tsukiji or Toyosu, but for many other polluted factory sites around Japan, ” says Takako Hasuo from the Home Nutrition Research Society and Food Safety Citizens’ Watch.
FSCW: Moving Tokyo’s fish market: Deception and hidden safety problems
The Food Safety Citizens’ Watch was established in April 2003 as a network of experts to monitor developments and make proposals to the government regarding food safety issues from the citizen’s point of view.
Saturday Nov. 3, 2007:
Plastic Incineration Rise Draws Ire
Environmentalists unswayed by limited tests, fears risks
Yasuko Ueda, a writer and outspoken activist with the Tokyo-based Consumers Union of Japan, a nongovernmental organization, noted that the government has invoked the Containers and Packaging Recycling Law to require that plastics be re-used as “resources” to the greatest extent possible, but complained that her own ward, Setagaya, does far too little to either recycle plastic or curtail its production from the start.
Ueda said she estimated that waste plastic could be reduced by about half were the directive followed more aggressively.
“The amount of plastic that absolutely must be incinerated will be only a tiny amount and the (lifetime of dump sites) can be extended by 10 years and beyond,” Ueda said. “If they just skip over those steps and categorize all that plastic as burnable,” she continued, “don’t you think that’s wrongheaded?”