The Yomiuri Shimbun Fast Retailing Co., the operator of the Uniqlo and GU store chains, has said it will switch from plastic shopping bags to paper ones in stages at its outlets worldwide from September as part of its effort to reduce overall plastic usage by 85 percent by the end of 2020.
Fast Retailing expects the total amount of plastic used for shopping bags, packaging materials and others to be reduced to about 15 percent of the current level at its about 3,500 group outlets around the world.
Given that efforts to cut down on plastics have been most visible in the food service industry, Fast Retailing’s move will likely influence the wider adoption of this trend by the apparel industry, observers said.
Of about 500 million checkout bags used by Fast Retailing’s group companies in a year, nearly 400 million bags are made of plastic.
From September, Fast Retailing plans to switch plastic shopping bags — used at its stores in Japan and 11 other nations and regions — to paper, including bags made from recycled paper.
Uniqlo and GU stores in Europe, North America, South Korea and some other parts of the world will start charging customers for shopping bags in September. In Japan, customers will pay an extra ¥10, excluding tax, for shopping bags from January 2020.
The firm also plans to reduce the use of plastic packaging — such as by not wrapping slippers or using paper to wrap Heattech thermal underwear — as part of its efforts to cut the total volume of plastic waste from its outlets worldwide by about 7,800 tons, or 85 percent of the current amount, by the end of 2020.
Retailers and the food service industry have taken the lead in the push to reduce plastic waste.
Convenience store chain operator Ministop Co. started charging customers for checkout bags at two stores in Chiba Prefecture on an experimental basis starting in late June. The firm initially was concerned that customers would distance themselves from the stores following the change, but it now seems to think it is making a good start, saying, “The number of customers who bring their own bags has increased.”
Ministop’s parent company, Aeon Co., now charges customers for plastic shopping bags at about 1,700 stores, mainly at supermarkets. The company plans to increase this number to about 2,500, including Ministop Co. outlets and its group drugstores.
Restaurant operator Skylark Holdings Co. stopped providing plastic straws at all of its about 3,000 group outlets starting July. It has also almost completed a shift to straws made from corn at its outlets.
“The number of customers who do not ask for straws has increased due to a raising of environmental awareness,” a Skylark public relations official said.
Corporate efforts to eliminate plastics can be broadly divided into two categories — charging fees and changing materials.
Supermarkets took the lead in charging customers for plastic shopping bags as their main customers are homemakers who tend to easily bring their own bags.
Meanwhile, convenience stores, where many customers drop by empty-handed, have been slow to charge fees due to concerns that they may lose customers.
How companies will promote cooperation among customers about environmental protection will be key to the success of their efforts.