Local Initiatives Leading the Way in Plastic Waste Reduction: Exploring Japan’s Progressive Activities towards INC-3

Co-Authors: Okayama City, Kitakyushu City and Toyama City

1 Background

Countries agreed to establish a binding global plastics treaty by 2024 at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA5.2). The initiative was prompted by the fact that 60% of plastic pollution flows from urban areas into the oceans, harming marine biodiversity. Japan, which is surrounded by the sea and derives many benefits from its marine resources, faces particular challenges from plastic.

At the G7 Sapporo Ministerial Meeting on Climate, Energy, and the Environment in April 2023, Japan, as the presiding nation, not only pledged to address the three major global crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution but also committed to eradicating plastic pollution. In addition, Japan set an ambitious goal of zero additional plastic pollution by 2040.

Also in May, during the Second United Nations Conference on the Environment (INC-2), jointly organised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the City of Paris, local and national government leaders gathered at the “Paris International Forum: Eliminating Plastic Pollution in Cities.” At the forum, participants shared best practices. In particular, the City of Kitakyushu, Japan, took the stage and received high praise for presenting successful case studies in plastic waste management and examples of international cooperation between cities as part of a side event.

Local action is key to reducing plastic waste. We will look at some progressive examples by the Japanese local governments in coastal areas.


2 Case Study

Kitakyushu City

Kitakyushu City has a history of overcoming pollution through cooperation between industry, academia, government, and the private sector, and has made efforts as an environmental city. Reducing plastic waste also requires the joint efforts of citizens and businesses. The mass drifting of plastic waste, plastic water containers, and other hazardous materials usually occurs during the winter and is a problem in the city.

In terms of measures against plastic waste, Kitakyushu has taken initiatives that are ahead of the rest of the country, such as promoting the establishment of plastic recycling companies in 1997 and introducing mandatory charges for plastic bags in 2008. In addition, activities such as the Kitakyushu Eco-Town Centre are being promoted as part of the circular economy.

The Kitakyushu Plastic Smart Campaign project, which has been running since 2019, involves converting designated bags for household waste into biomass plastic, promoting plastic-related industries through technical development support, and coastal clean-up. In October 2023, the bulk collection of plastic resources will start as a new initiative for plastic recycling.

Kitakyushu’s initiatives are being disseminated throughout the Asian region, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) developing a project in Thailand for the recycling of marine plastics (AEPW, AVPN) and in Davao, the Philippines, for the introduction of waste-to-energy power generation plants and support for improved waste management.

In order to achieve zero carbon and zero emissions by 2050, Kitakyushu will continue to promote a virtuous circle between the environment and the economy by accelerating environmental technologies and infrastructure exports.

Coastal clean-up activities during the 5th anniversary of the Green Sister City Conclusion with Davao City, Philippines


Okayama City

Since 2005, Okayama City has been promoting ESD initiatives throughout the Okayama region to foster leaders for a sustainable society. The Kominkan (Community Learning Centres (CLC) of Japan), local communities, and schools have been working together on a variety of initiatives to address familiar issues faced by the communities. In this context, Okayama City would like to introduce its initiatives related to marine and river litter.

Okayama City is home to the Sasagase River, which is associated with the birth of the legend of Momotaro, and it also has a littering problem. The Okayama Municipal Minannishi Kominkan, located downstream of the Sasagase River, is working with local residents, mainly junior high school students on marine litter reduction projects, including clean-up activities along the Sasagase River. This is an initiative to make children, the future leaders of the region, aware of the current state of environmental issues and to raise their environmental awareness. An experiment was also conducted to reduce river litter by stretching nets across the irrigation canal, an idea that came out of discussions among local residents, including junior high school students, on how to reduce river litter.

The Kominkan provides a range of support to help local residents deepen their connections through activities, and calls this practical project ‘Okayama Minan Model’, which contributes to the creation of sustainable communities by linking learning and practical activities.

Toyama City

It has been reported that 80% of the litter drifting into Toyama Bay is generated on land and discharged into the sea through rivers, etc. Toyama City signed an agreement with the Nippon Foundation in 2019 on actions to combat marine litter, with the aim of creating a model for marine litter countermeasures at the local level.
The marine litter countermeasure joint project with the Nippon Foundation has three pillars: ‘research and analysis’, to install oil fences (boom) on rivers flowing through residential areas in the city and ascertain the actual situation of plastic litter flowing from land areas into the sea; ‘education and awareness-raising’, to display large banner flags for awareness-raising at Toyama Station and wrapping of a tram, and holding special classes for primary school students to learn about the marine plastic litter issue; ‘action and implementation’, activities of litter pick-ups on beaches in cooperation with local companies, NPOs, and local professional sports teams, and fashion shows using recycled materials in collaboration with shopping malls in the city. In addition, in October 2023, events on marine litter were held at various locations upstream and downstream of the river, and opportunities were created for primary schools in mountain areas and on the plains to interact, with efforts being made throughout the region from upstream to downstream.
Toyama City is looking to horizontally expand its unique model to other local governments across the country, and even to the world.

Discussion and Conclusion

Plastics have become an indispensable part of modern society as an inexpensive, durable and convenient material. To tackle the plastics issue, it is important to reduce single-use plastics, promote recycling and reuse, and proper waste management, researching alternative materials and work with stakeholders, including the private sector, local communities and NGOs. In addition, without changing people’s attitudes through education and awareness-raising, the plastics issue will be difficult to solve effectively. Implementing comprehensive measures, including legislation and international cooperation, are essential for achieving zero emissions and carbon neutrality.

The expansion of the innovative initiatives from Japanese municipalities globally will be a catalyst for a future with plastic-zero emissions.