Athletes sleep on recycled cardboard beds, the 98 stages on which the winners receive their medals are made of recycled plastic and even the trash cans are made of material previously used. The Tokyo Games organization calls it the most sustainable Games ever, but the Japanese still have a hit on sustainability.
The plastic use is high. In 2018, it was 9 million tonnes of plastic waste. As per capita, Japan ranks second place worldwide, behind the US.
Plastic bags, plastic forks, plastic packaging. “Much of what we order from the store is plastic wrapped,” says Masae Mitsui when unpacking the groceries. She lives with her family in Tokyo. The peaches are in plastic packaging and are then packaged separately in plastic.
Like other households, the family needs to separate their waste and get instructions from the government what to put in which bin. For example, the milk packs are cut and PET bottle labels are removed. “That‘s not that complicated,” says Hiroaki Mitsui. “If it can be recycled, it’s worth it.”
“Japanese consumers are concerned when there is a small defect to a product. The producers are therefore very careful to prevent damage to their products and therefore pack them up,” says Masanobu Ishikawa, Emeritus Professor of Sustainability at Kobe University
According to him, the plastic consumption is high, but it also has a lot of collected, more than 95 percent of the plastic. “Some of it gets burned, but at least it doesn‘t end up in the ocean.”
“The third most polluting Games since 1992”
According to Professor of Sustainability Masanobu Ishikawa, there is a task for the government to let consumers choose other products with more sustainable packaging materials.
The Games themselves can be more sustainable, says Ishikawa. There were 4,000 lunch dishes left after the opening ceremony. The organization of the Games apologized for that and said that too much has been purchased.
The remaining packages are recycled according to Japanese custom. The contents of the packages are used for pet food. The packaging ends up on the mountain of plastic that Japan is already collecting.
In any case, the Japanese claim of the most sustainable Games in history is not swallowed by David Gogishvili, from the Sustainability Department of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. According to him, it’s the third most polluting Games since 1992, and the sustainable solutions do not have enough impact. As the size of the event increases, for example, the number of athletes flying to a country is increasing, says Gogishvili. The fact that a different country is chosen for each Games does not work with him either. He points out that that means that facilities and stadiums need to be built time and time again for each edition.