DAVOS, SWITZERLAND - The Japanese government is relying on cooperation among local governments, citizens and the plastics industry to shape recycling laws for the future. A plan for recycling in the next century, pending before the Japanese parliament, aims to avoid creating a massive national recycling bureaucracy, similar to the German Green Dot system, in favor of government support of lower-level efforts.
Toshihide Kasutani, deputy director of the basic chemicals division of the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry, said the Japanese program will focus on a three-tiered system of responsibility. He spoke at the Recycle '95 Worldwide Recycling Conference, held May 15-19 in Davos.
``It is fair to say that the plan - an updating of current Japanese recycling laws - calls for responsibility on the part of the citizens for sorting plastic wastes, on the local governments for collecting it and for choosing individual recycling methods, and on the part of industry for making use of and adding value to the waste materials,'' Kasutani said.
The ministry's plan, which was submitted to the country's legislature in early April, should pass without too much alteration, Kasutani said. The plan sets targets for collection, sorting, use and disposal for plastic and other wastes through the early part of the 21st century.
The plan would be phased in over a period of years, allowing time for specifics, such as cost targets, recycling rates and tax incentive levels, to be determined through cooperation among the public, industry and the government. It relies heavily on national government-assisted support to local recycling and education.
Kasutani said the problem of how to finance the added costs of collection and disposal of waste plastics will be handled in part by imposing targets for individual companies for the use of recycled materials in their products, or for fuel or feedstocks, based on their consumption of materials.
This would result in greater demand for post-consumer waste, rather than dependence on taxes or advance disposal fees to finance increased recycling.
The legislation's authors do not expect packaging prices to increase significantly - less than 1 cent per package - according to Kasutani.
The new plan emphasizes both increased mechanical recycling and incineration - although the government hopes to phase out conventional incineration plants, which now take careof about 35 percent of Japan's plastic waste, and replace them with waste-to-energy recovery plants.
Kasutani noted that siting incinerators is difficult in Japan. However, he noted that the architects of the Japanese law, which included members of the plastics industry, built in a multiyear delay in implementation to allow time for education and to change public attitudes.
The emphasis on waste-to-energy echoed the sentiments of many Europeans at the conference who said mechanical recycling has limited potential and will not be able to accommodate the majority of plastics that are collected.
``We are very interested in having the local municipalities decide how they wish to recycle their plastic,'' Kasutani said. ``They will be able to choose material recycling, or either form of thermal recycling.
``Steps must be undertaken at the national level to help expand both the market for recycled goods - such as requiring public agencies to purchase recycled goods on a regular basis - and by having the national government provide support for local governments to expand and improve their thermal recycling facilities.''
Japanese law, revised in 1993, already requires that all PET containers be labeled for easier separation, and sets out measures to promote technology development.
The proposed legislation would devote about 25 million yen ($302,500) to develop low-cost compactors for transporting waste, 140 million yen ($1.69 million) for automated equipment for sorting plastics by resin type, 300 million yen ($3.63 million) for technology to make recycling-derived fuel, and 360 million yen ($4.36 million) for technology to convert plastic waste to various forms of fuel oil or powder.
The law also would provide corporate tax reductions, accelerated depreciation, low-interest loans and investment subsidies for companies that install equipment for recycling or waste-to-energy recovery.
The proposal differs from laws in Europe, where rigid recycling rate quotas are in effect, and the costs of collecting, sorting and recycling many plastics are borne by product manufacturers in the form of fees paid to a third-party government agency, which then redistributes it.
One European attendee at the conference felt the Japanese plan is ambitious, and that it depends to a large degree on the will of citizens to sort and dispose waste and to pay higher costs for consumer products.