In September 2018, Kanagawa Prefecture became the first local government to commit to zero plastic waste. The prefecture was selected as one of ten local government models under the “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Future Cities” initiative within the Cabinet’s Office for Promotion of Regional Revitalization. We spoke with Prefectural Governor Yuji Kuroiwa about the prefecture’s approach to plastic waste.

The Kanagawa No Plastic Waste Declaration was issued in September.

We hope to lead the nation in eliminating the use of plastic straws, shopping bags, and similar plastic waste, and improving collection performance, reducing non-recycled plastic waste to zero by 2030. It’s part of our contribution toward achieving the government’s SDGs.

Why did you decide to issue the declaration?

We released our Grand Design in 2012 as a comprehensive strategy providing improvement in medicine, food, agriculture, environment, energy, and education. Since then SDGs have been adopted in UN, and when we realized they were very similar in content we shelved the prefectural plans and adopted the SDGs instead. This April we created a new post to manage the SDG project, and in June we, Kanagawa Prefecture, were selected by the Cabinet’s Office for Promotion of Regional Revitalization as an SDGs Future City model project, along with Yokohama City and Kamakura City.

I am especially interested in maintaining the healthy state of these municipalities. We were thinking of what sort of themes would be easiest to grasp, and heard that U.S. Starbucks’ announce to eliminate plastic straws. We knew at once it would be perfect. Everybody knows what plastic straws are, and they illustrate the SDG well. Just around that time a baby whale washed up on the Kamakura beach with a stomach some plastic... it was sort of a wake-up call.

Why did you decide to issue the declaration at once?

We had already raised the issue of microplastic pollution in the prefectural assembly, and we’ve been promoting sorted waste collection, the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), and Shonan coast clean-up projects for years. We thought the symbolism of issuing the declaration would be a big boost to our ongoing initiatives.

Introducing a SDG certification system

What measures are you planning?

We had new business cards made from limestone, for myself and prefecture srtaff. When we exchange business cards with someone, it’s a great way to get a conversation started, and it has led to a lot of good ideas about how to reduce plastic use. That’s really the whole point of the declaration: instead of trying to fix things with existing technologies and ideas, we want to launch a revolution by bringing together diverse industries and stakeholders.

That type of transformation is exactly what the SDGs are aiming for.

As more and more biodegradable materials enter use, the framework of society will begin to change, creating new businesses and new technologies. Gradually plastic consumption will drop, such as eliminating plastic straws and shopping bags at convenience stores, supermarkets, and restaurants, and collection performance will improve. We’ve made badges and stickers featuring a crying whale to promote the initiative, and use them at various events throughout the prefecture.

In November we launched a program to certify corporations making a significant contribution to achieving the SDGs, and a system to evaluate the social impact of the SDGs. The goal is to provide added support to corporate SDG innovation, and attract related investment.

A lot of companies with sophisticated technology are located in Kanagawa, and we hope that the declaration will help establish a clear direction, and get them started competing with each other to develop important new technologies. Already the Odakyu Electric Railway and Enoshima Electric Railway have joined us in the declaration, and are assisting in coast clean-up, and distribution of badges and stickers. We hope to get more small- and medium-scale businesses involved, too.

Photo: Masayuki Nakajima