In June 2019, one of Japan’s largest retailers — convenience store chain Seven Eleven — announced that it will be replacing the packaging of its rice balls (onigiri 🍙) with bioplastic.

🍙 Onigiri 🍙 lined up in Seven Eleven — a convenience store, or ‘conbini’ (Photo: Mariko McTier)

Considering that Japan has the world’s second highest rate of plastic packaging waste per capita in the world (second only to the US) and a study recently found 3 million plastic bags in Osaka bay alone, this is welcome news. But, is bioplastic really the solution?

Despite its name, a bioplastic is not automatically a sustainable solution.

You might expect a bioplastic wrapper to break down on your compost heap, or to at least have a lower carbon footprint, but…


With booming levels of waste, an ocean plastics crisis and depleting natural resources, our current economic model seems to be broken. But what’s the alternative?

The Circular Economy has been touted as a potential solution — an attractive concept that challenges the existing ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, and proposes a, circular, more holistic approach to growth that works for both business and the environment.

In the linear model, we extract raw materials from the earth to make a product, and after its use, any waste (e.g. packaging) is thrown away.

The Circular Economy model, however, is based on the following three…

Mariko McTier

Mariko is Co-Founder of Social Innovation Japan — a platform to provide people with the tools, information, and network to tackle real-world problems.

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