Japan can learn from India’s efforts to reduce plastic waste


Vanessa D. (11)

Rickshaw taxis create a haze of smog as they run the streets of Mumbai.

Vanessa D. (11)

This December when I made my annual family trip to India, I noticed something different. I had grown used to the lively, crowded streets lined with street vendors, the many rickshaws creating a haze of smog as they run the streets, and the rush of construction at every street corner over the years. However, in the midst of this rapidly developing nation, I noticed a subtle change: India was starting to make efforts to reduce plastic waste.

For the past several months, the Modi administration has been planning a nationwide ban on single-use plastic products. News of this has sparked much debate. While many congratulate Modi for attempting to take a bold step towards a greener India, this plan received harsh criticism for setting what seems like an unattainable goal. A nationwide ban on plastic? In a nation where heaps of garbage are left abandoned at almost every street corner? In a nation where the majority of the population are in desperate need of the cheapest, most accessible resources? India, a broad title made to encompass vast numbers of people of different languages, religions, and ethnic groups, coming together to make this nationwide ban possible? In a world that has grown used to the comforts of cheap, disposable packaging and plastic straws? The Modi administration has moved back and forth over this plan, and currently, it is unclear when this law will be passed. 

Although this ban remains in the grey area, with no one quite knowing how much will be realized, I noticed a change in Mumbai’s attitude towards the conservation of our environment. People were actually making an effort to reduce plastic waste. No matter how significant or subtle, I was inspired to see people were willing to give up small comforts to make a change. 

Vanessa D. (11)
Mugs you can order in at Starbucks Hiroo.

At Major Chains — Starbucks: 

Walk into a Starbucks in Japan, and you will find that most customers are drinking from plastic cups and straws. Many do not know that Starbucks Japan provides the option of using mugs or reusable tumblers available to customers instead of plastic. The service goes unnoticed by most customers because the staff do not offer you this option. Not until you request that your beverage be served in a mug, do they do so. 

According to Starbucks Stories and News, in January of 2020, Starbucks Coffee Japan announced that single-use plastic straws will be replaced by paper straws for nearly 1,500 stores across Japan. Although Starbucks’s efforts are appreciated, they looked bizarrely feeble when they continue to serve their drinks in plastic cups. It seemed to me that the efforts made to convert to paper straws were outweighed by the plastic cups.

Vanessa D. (11)
Starbucks Hiroo has stopped using plastic straws but continues to use plastic cups.

This is why when I walked into a Starbucks branch in Mumbai, I was surprised to see that all beverages were served in mugs. When I ordered a latte, I found that I did not have to ask for a more eco-friendly option. I later found that this was not the only Starbucks branch to have done this in India. According to “The Economic Times,” out of the seventy countries Starbucks has established itself in, Starbucks branches in India were among the first few to move towards eco-friendly cutlery options.

A Local Effort:

I noticed changes even in local businesses and people in Mumbai. When my family ordered delivery service from a local restaurant, our food came packaged in brown paper bags. I saw people bringing their own reusable fabric bags to buy from street vendors. I saw dusty billboards advocating for better air quality and reducing waste across India. 

This contrasts heavily with what I see in Japan. Japan produces massive amounts of packaging waste. Restaurants serve drinks in plastic cups and straws for customers who dine in. Convenience stores are lined with food packaged in plastic. Grocery stores double-package almost every item, and most customers ignore the few discounts using their own reusable bags would bring.

Japan Can Learn Something From India:

Vanessa D. (11)
Single-Use Plastic Ban in Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport

I was surprised to see India, one of the most underdeveloped countries, making more visible efforts towards environment conservation than Japan, one of the world’s leading countries. No matter how small these efforts, I thought it remarkable that India, a country that still faces challenges such as soaring mortality rates, poverty, and providing basic sanitary needs for all citizens, was taking on the issue of the world’s deteriorating environment. Coming back to Tokyo, I found it strange to see a country with one of the world’s most advanced infrastructure, and lowest child and poverty rates lagging behind in the global effort to reduce plastic waste.