The plastic problem in Japan seen through infographics
Quite a while has already passed since the environmental impact of plastics has been recognized. Nevertheless, the consumption of plastic bags in convenience stores has not been reduced, and it seems that the recent tapioca drink boom has been fueling the consumption of plastic straws.
My team and I, consisting of myself, Lisa Aoyama from Tokyo University of the Arts and my friends Minori Oshita, Naoko Hirotsu and Hayato Koga from Hitotsubashi University, gathered together to make an infographic-designed poster to raise awareness of plastic issues in Japan. These posters were on display in July 16-August 11, 2019 for one day only at Cafe Chuff, a 5-minute walk from JR Kunitachi Station in Tokyo as well as at the event title “INSPIRE” held at Shibuya Slack on August 31st, 2019. On both of these days, many people came even during the rainy season and both times our exhibition was a great success.
In this article, I would like to introduce our posters that were posted in this exhibit titled “Thinking About How to Have a Good Relationships with Plastics”!
The time has come to rethink how to interact with plastics that have made our lives convenient and rich. We all consume, recycle and dispose of plastics every day of our lives. There are various viewpoints out there explaining our “plastic problems”. I would be happy if this article could provide an opportunity for everyone to be interested in and be able to think more about the plastic issues we have in Japan today.
What is the plastic problem in the first place?
“By 2050, the weight of plastics in our oceans around the world will exceed the amount of fish.” This is a statement from the World Economic Forum announcing a very shocking forecast. There have been reports of cases where sea turtles and seabirds accidentally ingested plastic that was discarded and flowed into the ocean, resulting in their death.
The plastic problem is something that has become a hot topic these days. At the G20 Osaka Summit held in June this year, the marine plastics issue was raised on the agenda, and measures were incorporated in the Summit Declaration. It is a major issue that must be addressed urgently on a global scale in order to realize “Protecting the Abundance of the Sea” as the 14th goal of the SDGs.
Plastic bottles, plastic bags and straws are convenient and inexpensive plastic products that support our lives, but most of them are disposable. And the amount of plastic waste per person in Japan is the second worst in the world. Have you ever given any thought to this, “What happens to those discarded plastics after their use?”
An exhibition to think about making good use of plastics
In this exhibition, in order to capture the global plastic issue as a more personal problem related to the things we own and buy, I introduced these issues and designed the posters using infographics (an easy-to-understand visual design). In this way, our audience can easily and quickly learn how to practice plastic reduction on a daily basis as much as possible.
The first poster titled “9 things you didn’t know about plastics” showed a variety of data on the plastic pollution issues. Although there are some images, I visualized the current state of the plastic problem with numbers and graphics in a less serious and more relatable and easy-to-understand manner. For example, many foreigners who come to Japan point out the use of excessive plastic packaging, so how does it compare to the rest of the world? The information in this poster states that 84% of plastic waste in Japan is plastic designed to be disposable. There are 3.8 billion PET bottles that are not recycled every year, and the concentration of microplastics in the waters near Japan is 27 times the world average.
In the second poster, we expressed “The relationship between microplastics and you”.
The problem with marine plastics doesn’t seem to be directly related to us, but it may have an impact on our bodies in the form of microplastics. Through the food chain, we consume an average of 5 grams of plastic per week. What kind of health damage do microplastics do inside our bodies? The effect is not yet clear. But what we do know is that microplastics easily adsorb harmful chemicals in seawater, which is then ingested by humans through the consumption of seafood, causing it to accumulate in our bodies.
Many people might be wondering, “But Japan has a great recycling system, right?” Certainly, we do separate our trash and recycled items strictly on a daily basis, and we believe that garbage is properly treated, recycled, and reborn as another plastic product. However, there are some problems with recycling plastic waste in Japan. One method is called “thermal recycling”. More than half of Japan’s plastic waste is “recycled” in this way, but in reality it is just burning plastic and using energy released from the heat. Internationally, this method of burning and obtaining some offset energy in return is not considered “recycling”.
The other method of “recycling” plastic is the exportation of plastic waste to other countries. Every year, 1.5 million tons of waste is exported to China and Southeast Asian countries as “resources”. However, because there are efficient waste treatment facility readily available in these countries, this waste is mostly unrecyclable because it is dirty. Underpaid workers do their best to salvage the small amounts of still usable plastic to create cheap and “downcycled” products instead. By pushing the work of waste disposal into other countries where this plastic problem is the most severe, waste from Japan eventually finds its place into our oceans.
Up until now, we have expressed that the problem of plastics is an extremely severe situation. So what can we do? We can “Reduce!”. Rather than relying on recycling or waiting for governments and legislations to pass laws, we can take action towards mitigating the problem as consumers. We can become aware of methods to reduce our plastic consumption and acting independently. And above all, reducing is easier than you think! If you can carry items brought from a store without a plastic bag, just say to the cashier “I don’t need a plastic bag.” If you can drink without a straw, refuse to get offered one at your favorite cafe. Bringing your own drink with a reusable water bottle will save you a lot of money in the long run. Once you get into the habit, it’s not so bad. We can also make sure to buy products that don’t contain microbeads and woman can try out a menstrual cup or reusable menstrual pads for a plastic-free change!
Why don’t you think more deeply about plastic issue with us?
So far we have introduced what we thought about the plastic problem, how this impacts our daily lives, and how we expressed these ideas in our exhibition.
We have currently participated in two events in Tokyo so far with great success. Below are some photos from both the events at chuff Cafe and INSPIRE event. We thank all of the people who came to support our work! Please look forward to more events from our group. We have a Facebook page, please check it out below!