Plastics recycling efforts in Japan are moving forward steadily under provisions of a national recycling program passed by the Japanese parliament in June. Under terms of the plan, each individual municipality will have virtual autonomy in determining how it wishes to dispose of waste plastic within guidelines, goals and time frames set up by the national government.
``The Japanese people are beginning to be very mindful of the need to recycle and to conserve resources,'' said Toshihide Kasutani, deputy director of the basic chemicals division of the basic industries bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Industry and Technology. ``So they are prepared to do their part in the effort. The participation of the people at the most local level is both desirable and expected.''
Under the provisions of the law, recycling programs must be created for PET bottles by April 1997. At that time, recycling rates and amount targets will have been set by the government, and the municipalities will be able to choose recycling by mechanical means, incineration for energy generation, or use of plastic wastes as feedstocks for the manufacture of more chemicals and plastics.
``In 1994, Japan generated 150,000 metric tons [330.7 million pounds] of PET waste,'' Kasutani said in a telephone interview from Tokyo. ``That is a substantial amount, and growing.''
To accommodate the anticipated increased flow of PET that will result from the first level of the phase-in, Kasutani said a massive PET recycling plant, making polyester fiber for the textile industry, is planned in western Japan. A similar, full-scale plant is in operation near Tokyo.
``There will be a third, and possibly a fourth plant like this in the future,'' he said. ``But planning is not far along on those yet.''
To educate the populace on the provisions of the new law, the national chamber of commerce will mount a large publicity campaign before the 1997 deadlines, and the Plastic Manufacturers' Association of Japan will make requests for proposals on recycling facilities and programs at the local level.
Kasutani said full provisions for recycling other types of plastics will be phased in, and will not be complete until 2000, with similar recycling goals set.
``In some cases, more emphasis will be placed on recycling these plastic types for feedstocks,'' Kasutani said. ``The feedstock would be used by Japan's petrochemical industry to make more chemicals and plastics.''
He said because Japan's space limitations for landfilling are so much greater than those in other countries, the population might be more interested in incinerating waste plastics to generate electricity, to make steel, or other waste-to-energy uses.
The Japanese government forecasts that 10 billion yen ($94.7 million) will be spent to equip business, industry, local authorities and recyclers in Japan by the time the law is fully implemented.
``The Ministry of Health and Welfare is also helping with the education campaign,'' he said. ``And we are moving ahead to the beginning of the century and creating an environment in which our people can preserve and protect their environment and live comfortably.''