Photo/Illutration Disposable plastic products (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The days of customers getting free plastic spoons and 11 other single-use plastic items commonly handed out at convenience stores and other locations in Japan will likely end in April 2022.

That's when new rules to curb plastic waste kick in as part of an Environment Ministry plan.

An expert panel on Aug. 23 approved a basic proposal by the ministry that will oblige businesses to charge customers for 12 designated disposable plastic products including spoons handed out at convenience stores or take other measures to reduce plastic waste.

Japan produces about 9 million tons of plastic waste annually, of which just 20 percent are recycled as materials.

Under the ministry plan, retailers such as convenience stores and supermarkets, operators of eating and drinking services including take-out and delivery, hotels and others that provide disposable plastic products of more than five tons annually will have to adopt one of measures from the following: charge a fee for the item; ask customers if they want the item; give benefit points to customers who refuse plastic products; or provide alternative products using wooden or recycled materials or products made of less plastic.

The designated plastic products include utensils and straws; combs and toothbrushes provided by hotels as amenities; and hangers and plastic covers provided by dry cleaners.

Makers of the designated items will be asked to reduce plastic use in the manufacturing process and design products that are easier to dismantle and recycle and to package them more simply.

The government will certify particularly eco-friendly products and promote them to consumers.

The plan also includes changes to the Japan's system for garbage collection. Used plastic stationery items will be able to be collected together with plastic snack bags and food trays.

The ministry's proposal follows the recent enactment of the plastic waste recycling and promotion law in June. Before making a final official decision on whether to give the plan the green light this fall, the ministry plans to gather opinions from the public about how to best reduce plastic waste.