Photo/Illutration Customers at Seven & i Holdings Co. outlets can choose different plastic bag types with different fees. (Provided by Seven & i Holdings Co.)

Many retail companies plan to start charging customers for plastic bags on July 1, but other businesses have found ways to continue offering free bags without violating the government’s rules.

The government decided to require companies to charge for plastic bags to cut down on plastic waste that has been cited as a serious maritime environmental problem.

Major supermarket chains, such as Seiyu GK and Aeon Co., have been charging their customers who want plastic bags since around 2012.

However, convenience store chains opposed the requirement on grounds that most of their customers buy only a few items, and it would be difficult to ask them to bring their own shopping bags.

But from July 1, three convenience store chains--FamilyMart Co., Lawson Inc. and Seven-Eleven Japan Co.--will charge between 3 yen and 5 yen (3 to 5 cents) for each plastic bag.

Some department store chains are planning to also charge for paper bags from July 1, even though such fees are not required.

Plastic bags will cost customers a few yen at the food product sections of Sogo & Seibu Co. stores. But customers will also be charged between 10 yen and 100 yen for paper bags provided at other sales floors.

Fast Retailing Co., which operates the Uniqlo clothing brand, will switch to paper bags from plastic ones and eventually charge for the paper bags.

“Just because they are paper bags doesn’t mean people can use them without end,” a Fast Retailing official said. “We will encourage customers to bring their own shopping bags with them.”

Some other retail outlets have no plans to stop handing out plastic bags for free.

The new charging program does not cover plastic bags with a thickness of 0.05 millimeter or greater that can be repeatedly used, as well as plastic bags with biomass materials derived from plants making up at least 25 percent of the content.

Hokkaido-based convenience store chain Seicomart, “gyudon” (beef-and-rice bowl) chains Yoshinoya Co. and Sukiya Co., and the Royal Host Co. restaurant chain are among a number of companies that will give free eco-friendly plastic bags made from biomass materials to their customers.

“We provide food that customers will eat, so they may feel concerned about placing such products in their own shopping bags along with various other products,” a Yoshinoya official said.

An official with a major restaurant chain noted that takeout sales have increased during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and raised concerns that customers could stay away if they are charged for plastic bags.

Plastic bags make up only a few percentage points of the 9 million tons of plastic garbage disposed of annually in Japan.

(This article was compiled from reports by Takumi Wakai, Aki Sato and Mutsumi Mitobe.)