Finding New Business in the Move Away from Plastic

FM radio host Mona Neuhauss has been involved in the environmental industry since launching No Plastic Japan in 2018 to sell stainless steel drinking straws.
When she orders a cold drink at a café, Neuhauss uses her own stainless steel straws instead of plastic straws. At caffe di ruscello in Ota City, Tokyo.

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.

She started as a co-host on J-WAVE's morning show STEP ONE from April 2021. The program covers business topics, including environmentally-friendly businesses and other topics. Photo: courtesy of Neuhauss Mona

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."

Falafel Brothers, a popular vegan restaurant chain in Tokyo, was the first to introduce stainless steel straws by No Plastic Japan. Photo: courtesy of Falafel Brothers

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.

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In November 2021, Neuhauss spoke at the 3rd SB-Japan Forum, an event for corporate members of Sustainable Brands Japan, which shares SDG-related Japanese and international news. Photo: courtesy of Neuhauss Mona

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.

Neuhauss enjoys mother-and-child trips to cafes and parks on her days off. Photo taken at caffe di ruscello, next to Seseragi Park in Ota City, Tokyo. Photo: Neuhauss Mona

Mona Neuhauss

Born in 1992 to German and Japanese parents. Grew up in England and started living in Tokyo in 2016. While working for the Japanese branch of a foreign consulting firm, she founded No Plastic Japan in 2018. She raises awareness of environmental conservation activities and actions that can easily be incorporated into daily life.
Interview and writing by Imaizumi Aiko
Photos (portraits) by Tanaka Hidenori
Translation by Amitt