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7-Eleven to wrap 2 billion rice balls in plant-based plastic

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7-Eleven's plan to wrap the nearly 2.3 billion rice balls it sells a year in packaging partially composed of plant-based plastics is probably good for business. Its impact on the climate is less clear.

[TOKYO] 7-Eleven's plan to wrap the nearly 2.3 billion rice balls it sells a year in packaging partially composed of plant-based plastics is probably good for business. Its impact on the climate is less clear.

The convenience store chain that is ubiquitous across Japan and owned by Seven & i Holdings, is the latest company to tout an environmentally-friendly image ahead of the Group of 20 summit (G20) in Osaka this week.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to highlight the scourge of plastic waste in the ocean at the G20 meeting. On land, Japan has been scrutinised for having the world's second highest plastic package waste per capita, according to a 2018 United Nations report.

"There's been a lot of knee jerk reactions away from conventional plastics," said Mark Hilton, head of sustainable business at the UK-based environmental consultancy Eunomia Research & Consulting.

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"People are now actively looking for green products. The worry is they don't understand what is and isn't green."

Seven & i Holdings declined to disclose how much bioplastic is used in its new rice ball wrappers that also contain conventional plastics made from fossil fuels.

The initiative will decrease the convenience store chain's plastic usage by 260 tons and its carbon footprint by 403 tons per year, the company said.

ELIMINATE PLASTIC

"The purpose is not to completely remove the plastics from the environment, the aim is to decrease our carbon dioxide emission," said Yuki Toda, a spokesman for Seven and i Holdings. The latest initiative will reduce its direct and indirect carbon footprint by 0.01 per cent.

The rice ball wrappers are part of a broader environmental plan the company has announced, which also includes a goal to eliminate plastic bag use by 2030.

Japanese consumers are believed to use about 30 billion plastic shopping bags a year, Sadao Harada, an associate professor of public economics at the Osaka University of Commerce said. The government plans on introducing a law to ban free plastic bags next year.

Suntory Holdings, the closely-held company whose beverage operations span the globe, said last month it has a goal of switching all its bottled drink products to recycled plastic or plant-based plastic by 2030 - a task that could cost 50 billion yen (S$628.5 million). The process will take time since laws and waste disposal systems differ across the world, its spokeswoman Hasumi Ozawa said.

Other convenience operators such as FamilyMart and Lawson have also publicised initiatives to use plant-based plastic in parts of their food packaging in recent months, building on environmental-friendly policies in the past.

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