Photo/IllutrationPlastic bottles are seen in garbage along the Arakawa river in Tokyo. (Provided by Zenkoku Kawagomi Network)

The central government is taking a stronger stance against disposable plastic straws, bottles and other products that are increasingly being blamed as a major cause of marine pollution in oceans.

In particular, ministries, national universities and other entities will be obligated to sign contracts with companies commissioned to operate restaurants that do not provide disposable plastic straws or spoons. Another move will be to ask those entities to stop distributing beverages in plastic bottles during meetings they sponsor.

The initiative is an effort to wipe away embarrassment over the Group of 7 summit in Canada last year when Japan and the United States were the only nations not to sign the ocean plastics charter that included provisions to reduce the use of disposable plastic products.

"There is a need for the government to play a leading role on this issue. We hope to spread moves to reduce the use of disposable plastics to local governments and industry as well," Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada said at a Feb. 8 news conference.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet approved revisions to the basic policy direction of the law covering government procurements the same day.

Under the changes, all 209 central government-related entities will be required to select companies they buy products and services from depending on the measures those companies take in shifting away from the use of disposable plastics.

While a number of private-sector companies have announced steps to stop using plastic straws and other products, the latest move is intended not only to have the central government play a leading role, but also to serve as a trigger to encourage local governments to follow suit.

The companies that operate restaurants and cafes in the government entities will be asked not to provide disposable plastic products. Convenience store chains that open branches in such entities will also have to take measures to reduce the use of disposable plastic products, such as charging for plastic shopping bags and having staff members ask customers if they need plastic spoons and other utensils before handing them out.

When the government entities commission firms to organize meetings that involve outside experts, they will have to select those that pledge not to provide beverages in plastic bottles to participants. Environment Ministry officials said that this measure alone could lead to the reduction of 85,000 plastic bottles tossed out over a year.

The deterioration of plastic products leads to microplastics, which negatively affect the ocean ecosystem.

Amid increased international attention toward the problem, France has already banned the sale of disposable plastic containers and spoons.

According to a report by the U.N. Environment Program, Japan ranks second in the world for per capita volume of disposable plastic garbage.

Faced with a backlash for failing to sign the ocean plastics charter last year, the government is seeking to improve its international standing by moving to the forefront in dealing with disposable plastics, particularly as it will host the Group of 20 summit in June in Osaka.