Finding New Business in the Move Away from Plastic
Movement to Eliminate Plastic Straws Picks up Speed
Marine plastic waste is a global issue, and many countries are working to reduce single-use plastics. Plastic straws easily pollute the natural environment—as they are smaller and lighter than other plastic products, they tend to slip out of garbage bags and be carried by the rain and wind into oceans or rivers.
In the USA, companies such as Disney and Starbucks have already eliminated plastic straws. In the EU, the distribution of certain single-use plastic products, including straws, has been banned since 2021.
In Japan, restaurant chain Skylark Holdings began introducing biomass straws made from corn in 2018. As more companies discontinue the use of plastic straws, alternatives such as paper, bamboo, and stainless steel are attracting more attention.
Promoting Stainless Steel Straws on Social Media
Neuhauss Mona, a well-known host on J-WAVE, represents No Plastic Japan, a project that sell stainless steel drinking straws to raise awareness on single-use waste. The impetus for starting the business came from the amount of waste produced in her daily life, which she realized when she started living in Japan.
"At the time, I was working for the Japanese branch of a foreign consulting firm. My co-workers who bought convenience-store lunch boxes threw away huge amounts of plastic waste every day after eating, including plastic wrap, containers, spoons, forks, hand-towel wrappers, and plastic bags," she says. This was a sight Neuhauss had not seen in the UK, where she had lived for a long time.
Neuhauss has long been promoting the zero-waste movement to encourage people to rethink disposables and reduce waste, posting in both Japanese and English on Instagram as "No Plastic Japan" and showing images of people bringing their own straws to cafes as well as sharing efforts to reduce single-use plastics. In 2018, No Plastic Japan began manufacturing and selling stainless steel straws. There was an immediate response from the general public, and as consumer interest grew, so did inquiries from cafes and stores in Tokyo that wanted to introduce the straws, as well as from companies eager to distribute them as commemorative gifts.
"The reason we chose straws was because at the time, you would hardly see anyone in Tokyo with their own reusable straws. Since many people already owned reusablet cups and bags, I felt that manufacturing similar items would only increase the amount of stuff everybody had."
The Market for the Environmental Industry will Grow even Greater in the Future
Neuhauss works in public relations for Totoya, which operates the zero-waste "nue by Totoya" store in Kokubunji, as well as being involved in projects and in corporate consulting. As plastic shopping bags are no longer free as of 2020, companies are accelerating their efforts to eliminate plastics in general, and nue by Totoya is therefore seeing increasing inquiries from these companies.
The market for the environmental industry in Japan grew to 104.4 trillion yen in 2020, which is 1.8 times larger than it was in 2000, and is expected to reach 124.4 trillion yen by 2050. Efforts to address environmental issues and the SDGs may provide new business opportunities far beyond disposable plastics.
Photos (portraits) by Tanaka Hidenori
Translation by Amitt