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ISHES Newsletter #36: Atami Mudslide Disaster Support Team & Japan's Initiatives on Plastics

2021/07/31 12:19:44
ISHES Newsletter #36
July 31, 2021

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Copyright (c) 2021

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

This month, Germany and Belgium suffered severe floods caused by torrential rains. In June, high temperature records were broken in Canada. Unprecedented natural disasters like these are occurring more frequently around the world. In fact, a landslide occurred in the seaside city of Atami, not far from the home of ISHES president Junko Edahiro. In this issue of the ISHES newsletter we have a message from Junko about the landslide in Atami, as well as an article about marine plastic, and we hope to trigger some thoughts on what we can all do about these issues.

In this July 2021 issue, you will find the following articles:

- Message from Junko Edahiro

At 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 3, a major mudslide occurred on the slopes of the Izusan district in Atami City on Japan's Pacific coast. It was very near to where ISHES' president Junko Edahiro lives. Here she shares a message with readers about what she felt, what she thinks, and how she is responding to this disaster.

- Japan's Initiatives on Plastics

Plastic waste is at last being recognized as an urgent global problem. Various responses are under way in Japan, including new legislation to regulate plastics. This month's article introduces various initiatives.

- Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter

Further below, we introduce a JFS article covering the efforts of a students' club in Okayama Prefecture as they worked with fishermen to clean up the sea floor while also raising awareness about marine pollution.


Message from Junko Edahiro


A landslide struck the Izusan district of Atami

At 11 a.m. on July 3 (Saturday), a landslide struck the Izusan district of my home town of Atami City.
Since then nearly a month has passed.
The disaster occurred about a 15 minute walk from my house.
The site is also along my marathon route, so I was speechless when I saw video footage of the scene.

I'm grateful to say that neither the area I live nor my office were damaged.
However, as I write this (July 20), 18 deaths have been confirmed and the search continues for more victims. About 400 people are still living in evacuation, staying at hotels and other accommodations.
Some people I know personally had their homes swept away, and some residents have sprung into action to help others even while they themselves are still in evacuation mode.

The disaster site has steep slopes so residents are still not able to get close.
Even so, the huge scale of the disaster is obvious from the sight of the many trees that were washed into the sea near my home after the disaster struck.
Even now, emergency response and support vehicles can be seen driving through town, including Self-Defense Forces and fire department crews from other prefectures. I never before imagined that the very place I live would be described as a "disaster area." My heart goes out to the people affected by the disaster.

Atami Mudslide Disaster Support Team Facebook group

After the disaster struck, I set up the "Atami Mudslide Disaster Support Team" Facebook group.
I did this because I sensed there was a need to connect people with information.
We did what we could to convey share information on the actions of the government(s) and community, and to gather information about people who needed assistance and those who could provide it. The group has grown to over 1,200 members and new comments come in every day.
It is inspiring to know people are out there concerned about the situation and offering support.

Atami is a tourist town. The fisheries are also a major industry here. Because of that, I sense this disaster will have big impacts on the local economy.
Hoping to support it, with my company's online shop I started selling sets of seafood products, with a donation included in the purchase. Thankfully, many people are buying. We are also collecting donations at my company's cafe.

We are also holding regular meetings with people who are locally active providing assistance, and promoting information sharing and collaboration.

The big challenge going forward will be how to restore lives, livelihoods, dynamism and community connections once people gradually start returning to the affected area.
It will also be important to provide emotional support for the local children and youth.
I hope we can encourage actions by locals and others who are supporting them, not only with emergency support, but also actions in the medium and longer term to recover and restore, and to bring back the local dynamism and economy.

Also, I would like to bring attention not only to the issues in front of us, but what is really important. I think the causes of this disaster were the unprecedented days of heavy rains, falling on an area where land use changes such as a megasolar project and soil being piled up led to the slope losing its water retention capacity.

Damage from torrential rains is occurring not only in Atami but various other places around Japan.

Canada is experiencing record high temperatures. These could be seen as warning bells telling us that global warming is under way.
They are telling us that we need awareness and action not only to stop the progress of global warming, and we need to expand the efforts. I believe that this is one way we can learn from the disaster in Atami and work to prevent the next disaster from happening.

Thank You Board for Self-Defense Forces and fire department crews

I send a heartfelt thank you to everyone who sent messages of concern and support after the disaster.
I hope that you will continue to lend us your support!

Junko Edahiro, in Atami, Japan

We launched an online donation page for the disaster in Atam. Please check it.

Atami Mudslide Disaster Support Team


Japan's Initiatives on Plastics


Image by meineresterampe.

By the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES), Japan

Marine plastic waste has become an urgent issue as some studies have suggested that there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean by 2050 unless things change. In Japan, some initiatives on plastics are underway, including the enactment of new legislation.?

A bill for the Act on Promotion of Resource Circulation for Plastics

On June 4, 2021, Japan's House of Councilors enacted the Act on Promotion of Resource Circulation for Plastics. The new act specifies measures to circulate plastic resources at different phases of plastic-containing products, from the design, manufacturing, selling, and recovery to recycling, in order to promote the reduction, collection, and recycling of plastic waste. This issue of our newsletter introduces specific aspects of those measures.

The national government has set environmentally friendly guidelines on plastic-containing products at the design and manufacturing phases. Plastic products manufactured following the guidelines are certified by the government. The government actively procures such certified products and supports the recycling facilities, encouraging manufacturers to make environmentally friendly products.

At the selling and serving phases, small retail stores are to reduce the provision of single-use plastic products such as spoons and forks. They are also to promote awareness-raising among consumers about single-use plastics.

At the collection and recycling phases, municipalities are encouraged to sort and collect plastic waste and pass it on to recycling businesses for recycling.

Statement of NGO Network for Realizing Reduced Plastic Society

Will this legislation alone be effective to solve the plastic waste issue? The NGO Network for Realizing Reduced Plastic Society, consisting of NGOs and citizen groups that tackle marine plastic waste, welcomed the fact that the act covers the entire lifecycle of plastic-containing products, but stated that the measures under the act are still limited in scope and that although it is crucial to reduce the total amount of plastic, the act does not do so.

For example, the effective utilization rate of plastic waste is 85 percent, but that rate depends heavily on "heat recovery" (incineration), while Japan's actual plastic recycling rate is stuck at around 16 percent. Recycling is essential, but the real challenge is to reduce the total amount of plastic going into circulation. The network's statement basically calls for a prohibition on the manufacturing and use of disposable plastic by 2030, and minimization of heat recovery from plastics.

The Resource Circulation Strategy for Plastics announced by the Japanese government in May 2019 lists "Maximizing the introduction of biomass plastics (to about 2 million tons) by 2030" as one of its goals. The strategy points out that rather than indiscriminately promoting biomass as an environmentally friendly material, it is necessary to verify from different viewpoints that biomass plastics are sustainable and don't cause other problems. For example, will they result in resource competition with food supplies?
The Act on Promotion of Resource Circulation for Plastics is expected to enter into force in April 2022. We all hope that it can be made increasingly effective through a cycle of enforcement and verification.

MARINE Initiative

Image photo.

Besides working on the issue of plastic waste, the Japanese government is also working to support developing countries to solve this problem.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the launch of the MARINE Initiative on July 13, 2021. It is under the "Osaka Blue Ocean Vision," which aims to reduce additional pollution from marine plastic litter to zero by 2050, as announced at the G20 Osaka Summit in June 2019. "MARINE'' stands for Management of wastes, Recovery of marine litter, Innovation, and Empowerment.

Concrete policy measures are as follows:

- Build necessary capacities and institutions for developing countries to promote waste management and the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).

- Support the introduction of environmental infrastructure in developing countries, such as waste disposal facilities, and develop relevant human resources, through official development assistance and international organizations.

- Provide training for 10,000 personnel in waste management worldwide by 2025.

- Promote operations by Japanese companies, NGOs, and local governments to facilitate infrastructure exports such as waste-management-related facilities, and innovation and technology introduction for plastic alternatives and recycling.

- Disseminate and share experience, insights and technologies gained from initiatives in Japan, as well as waste management, recovery of marine litter, through relevant international conferences, etc.

Through these measures, the Japanese government aims to support developing countries to build capacity and infrastructure in waste management.

Efforts by industry

Industry also has various initiatives to reduce plastics.

One example is the Clean Ocean Material Alliance (CLOMA), in which various corporations and organizations tackling marine plastic pollution work together across industries, aiming to promote the sustainable use of plastics as well as the development and diffusion of alternative materials for solving the issue. CLOMA was established in November 2018 and consisted of 430 member companies and organizations as of June 29, 2021.

Its major activities include sharing information on marine plastic pollution, containers and packaging materials, 3Rs activities, as well as holding symposiums and other events, and disseminating information overseas on alternative technologies. It also researches what kinds of information and technologies are needed by member companies, and provides matching services. CLOMA has declared it aims for recycling 100% of plastic products such as containers and packaging by 2050, in order to reduce marine plastic waste.

Efforts by local governments

Local governments are also tackling the issue by announcing Zero Plastic Waste Declarations. On the website of e's Inc., where I serve as the CEO, you can see a list of 23 local governments that have made declarations. Here are two examples.

e's Inc. website

Kameoka City in Kyoto Prefecture is one of the first local governments to make a Zero Plastic Waste Declaration. Known as the first city to enact an ordinance to ban stores from offering plastic shopping bags to customers in Japan, it has been actively working towards its goal for having zero waste from single-use plastics by 2030. To further strengthen its efforts, it signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement on the environment and education with BRITA Japan (Chuo Ward, Tokyo), a household water filtration company, in 2020 and is accelerating its initiatives such as setting up water refill stations and encouraging people to use their own thermoses and bottles. Kameoka's case is a good example of the potential for co-creation between local governments and companies as well as people overseas to tackle the issues.

Kesennuma City, a fisheries-based city in Miyagi Prefecture, is another example. The city declared its actions to reduce marine plastic litter to zero. I supported the city as a member of the drafting committee for the declaration. Together with the declaration, the city has issued a detailed action plan to completely eliminate the flow of plastic into the ocean. Here are some actions in the plan.

- Marine plastic waste collected at sea
The city is responsible for the disposal of marine litter collected by fishermen during fishing operations.

- Marine waste collection stations
The city will establish collection stations so that fishermen and volunteers can drop off marine litter they have collected from the ocean and beaches.

- Used fishing gear
In the past, it was difficult for fishermen to dispose of used and unwanted fishing gear, so the city will create easier ways to dispose of this gear, learning from examples in the agricultural industry.

- Original reusable shopping bag
The city will produce its own reusable shopping bags, to reduce the use of plastic bags.

- Beverages at the city hall meetings
The city will stop offering plastic bottled beverages at city hall meetings and instead offer drinks in recyclable metal cans or "carton cans" (made of cardboard).

The committee also checks on the progress of these actions at regular meetings. It is important to raise awareness on plastic waste, and it is also important to involve governments, companies, and local people to promote initiatives as Kesennuma is doing, and to keep such efforts going.

How should we deal with plastic waste flowing into the ocean? Initiatives at For Future Company

Above, we introduced initiatives to reduce plastic waste and prevent it from flowing into the ocean. So how should we deal with plastic waste that has actually made its way to the ocean? At For Future Company (Mirai-Sozo-Bu in Japanese) that I established with friends in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, we are working to reduce marine plastic pollution.

We have three pillars of our activities. First, we join nationwide beach clean-up activities in Japan. In Atami, on the second Sunday every month, a local beach club picks up litter on the beach. We realized that almost all of the litter consisted of plastic. By removing the plastic litter that typhoons and storms have washed up on the shore, we can prevent it from returning to the sea.

The second is the "Pla-Catch Project." We try to catch plastic litter in net across the mouth of the Itogawa River in Atami City. The net is carefully set so that it does not prevent fish from going upstream. We started the project in July 2020 and found that not much plastic litter actually flows from the river to the ocean. However, citizens and sightseers often wander around this location, so we continue this project as part of awareness-raising and environmental education.

"Pla-Catch Project."

The third pillar is seaweed bed restoration. We learned from overseas projects using seaweed to absorb microplastics, and decided to try restoring depleted seaweed and seagrass beds ourselves. This is also a blue carbon project. After seaweed grows and absorbs microplastics, we plan to collect and carbonize it, and use the product as charcoal or as alternatives to fossil fuels.

Plastic pollution is an immediate problem for everyone. Addressing this problem and not letting the ocean environment deteriorate further is a significant step toward building a sustainable society. We need to work on this problem in society as a whole and worldwide, through partnerships with local governments, businesses, NGOs, and overseas partners. We will do what we can, and share news of these initiatives and efforts in Japan with people around the world.


Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter
on sustainability issues in Japan


In this section of each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we have been recommending past articles from Japan for Sustainability newsletters. The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018, sending out information to the world with the aim of moving society in Japan and the world toward sustainability and greater happiness.

Back in 2013, the Geography and History Club of the Sanyo Joshi (girls) Junior and Senior High School in Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture was tackling the issue of waste littering the sea floor of the Seto Inland Sea. They were not only raising trash from the sea floor but also awareness in the minds of the people. Here we introduce the original article from 2013, in the students' own words.

Japanese High School Students Work on Seabed Waste Issue

Years have passed, the school is now co-ed, and its name has changed to Sanyo Gakuen Junior and Senior High School, but the club continues unabated. In fact, it has been recognized and awarded by the Minister of the Environment, the Prime Minister of Japan, and even the United Nations, and featured in publications about the SDGs. The following link is only in Japanese but the pictures depict the club's many activities and achievements.

Japan for Sustainability website

Three years have now passed since JFS ended its regular publishing and updates. Since then, the ISHES newsletter has been introducing one article per month from the JFS archives, but now at the three-year mark, we will be ending our monthly feature on JFS articles. After next month, we invite you to visit the JFS website at your own convenience and use the handy search function to find any topic of interest in both English and Japanese.


Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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