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Plastic industry in Japan - statistics & facts

Plastics are a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials. They are light-weight, inexpensive to produce and their flexibility makes it possible for them to be pressed into solid objects of various shapes. The plastic industry thus represents an important part of the Japanese economy as it supplies materials for other manufacturing industries. There, plastics are used for a variety of products such as food and beverage containers, textiles, electronic products, machine and automotive parts, construction materials, as well as medical equipment. The constant demand for plastic materials in Japan is reflected in the stable sales volume of plastic products, which remained close to six million metric tons annually.

 Plastic industry in Japan 

In recent years, Japan was one of the largest plastic producers in the world. Plastic films and sheets were by far the product with the largest consumption volume and were followed by plastic products for machines and single-use products such as plastic plates. Plastic films and sheets are polymeric materials of various thicknesses, which are used for a variety of applications such as packaging, bags, labels, photographic films, and tapes.
In a broader definition, plastics are part of the chemical industry. Shin-Etsu Chemical was one of the largest chemical companies in Japan and represented one of the major global producers of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC made up the company's largest business segment, followed by silicones. Like Shin-Etsu Chemical, most Japanese chemical companies are highly diversified and produce a wide variety of products ranging from plastics to other chemical products.

 Plastic waste in Japan 

The widespread usage of plastic products, in particular single-use plastic products and plastic packaging, leads to huge amounts of plastic waste. As a result, plastic waste pollution has become a major environmental issue.
After China and some Southeast Asian countries banned plastic waste imports, the plastic waste export volume from Japan dropped, forcing the island nation to find more sustainable solutions to reduce and manage plastic waste.
Increasing to around 85 percent in recent years, the recycling rate of plastic waste was much higher than the recycling rate of regular waste in Japan, which remained at around 20 percent. Nevertheless, the main recycling method for plastic waste was thermal recycling. With this method, the waste is incinerated to generate energy. Despite the filtering technologies, which avoid incineration plants releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases, the incineration process produces fumes that contribute to air pollution and global warming. 
To reduce the volume of plastic waste, the Japanese government promotes the so-called 3R initiative, which encourages businesses and citizens to focus on the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling of waste. Furthermore, the government prohibited all retail shops from distributing free plastic shopping bags as of July 2020.

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