News article link: https://www.insider.com/kit-kat-nestle-replaces-plastic-wrap-with-paper-origami-japan-2019-8
In recent years, plastic waste and pollution have gained much attention and generated numerous head turning headlines; conglomerates such as Nestle are increasingly being held accountable for their prevalent use of plastic packaging. In the bid to reduce plastic waste, Nestle Japan has launched the first paper packaging for their KitKat line, specifically their multipack KitKats. This packaging comes with a gimmick that allows the waste paper to be cut out and used as paper for origami. The packaging even comes with a set of instructions on how to fold a paper crane. The switch to paper sees a reduction of 380 tonnes of plastic, a step away from further plastic pollution.
For Nestle Japan, paper seems to be more desirable since its natural origins stood in stark contrast against man-made plastic. Given the global negative connotation with plastics, this initiative by Nestle would seem appropriate at first glance especially since various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), such as Greenpeace, have been putting pressure on Nestle for their incessant use of single-use plastics across the majority of their product lines. With Nestle offices located globally in more than 80 countries, the paper packaging debut in Japan not only paints and reinforces the country’s image as a sustainable and waste efficient country, this assimilation with origami reiterates the traditional Japanese relationship with paper, further justifying the switch to paper. However, upon closer inspection, one could also question if this move is any different from what KitKat Japan has been doing for years with cardboard outer packaging for certain products. Furthermore, virgin paper is used as the replacement and it can be argued that material burden is not reduced but transferred from the plastic to the forestry industry and countries whom Japan imports virgin pulp from. However, the fact remains that this measure possibly maintains the status quo on single-use packaging or even justifies single-use culture, an argument stressed by Greenpeace (Morgan, 2019), an one that is originally propagated by convenience stores and supermarkets.
The case to popularize paper as a more sustainable alternative by reading into a specific perspective of a traditional Japanese culture – origami, can be argued as an attempt at nihonjinron, nationalist discourse mentioned in Kalland and Asquith (1997). By taking on a global discourse of sustainability (finding sustainable alternatives to plastic), Nestle Japan makes links between global sustainability and the specific origami tradition to reinforce the importance of paper to the Japanese society and paints a “green image” of Japan mentioned earlier. Yet, other historical narratives of paper/forestry such as forestry mismanagement and overexploitation are excluded. Political ecology and the complexity surrounding sustainability mentioned by Kirby are also relevant ideas. Each party involved in Nestle’s move towards plastic waste reduction all have their own definitions of what is considered to be a sustainable alternative to plastics as well as specific motivations as to what waste should be or how it should be produced and treated for recycling (Kirby, 2011).
Hidden behind the ‘green’ movement are the Japanese paper conglomerates bidding for a share of the green pie. For example, the Nippon Paper Group, one of the top papers and pulp companies in Japan, created a “Paperising Promotion Office” in 2018 to promote “paper culture” across Japan. Oji Holdings, their competitor, could possibly be doing the same by being the supplier of this initiative by Nestle though “paper culture” here can be likened to Waley (2000)’s “river culture” where paper is pitched to be sustainable alternative to plastic much like how images of rivers has been controlled, changed and represented in Japan.
Asquith, Pamela J. & Kalland, Arne (1997). Japanese Images of Nature Cultural Perspectives. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Man and Nature in Asia, No. 1, pp. 1-36. Curzon Press.
Morgan Jennifer (2019). We’re going after Nestle. Here’s why. https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/21712/were-going-after-nestle-heres-why/.
Kirby, Peter. Wynn (2011). Constructing Sustainable Japan. In Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, pp. 160-192. University of Hawai’i Press.
(2000) Following the flow of Japan’s river culture. Japan Forum, Vol. 12, No.2, pp. 199-217. Talyor and Francis.
KitKat advertisement for its new paper packaging (in Japanese): https://buzzgang.jp/main/71531
Nestle’s future plans for sustainable packaging: https://www.nestle.com/ask-nestle/environment/answers/greenpeace-break-free-from-plastic-report