Japan is the second-largest producer of plastic waste. Most plastic waste is said to come from the household. The recent government policies have called for the cooperation of individual citizens to recycle and change their lifestyles to attain sustainable futures. However, this anthropological study into the history of women’s relationship with plastics from the 1940s to 1970s shows that the idea that individual consumers are responsible to save the environment is a relatively recent discourse. Throughout this period, women exercised power collectively through organizations such as the Housewives’ Federation to negotiate the materialities of this new chemical in their households. As consumers, citizen scientists and producers, they composed their attachment towards some plastic elements but not others. They collectively determined what could be sold as a plastic product, changed the industry and shop floor practices, and influenced law and government policies regarding plastic waste disposal. Conceptualizing plastic as a “relational element,” I argue that the same force that mythicizes different plastic elements into a single capitalist element, "purasuchikku" is the force that breaks down collective resistance into the myth of an individual zero waste warrior today. The study highlights the potential of collective activism in negotiating the toxicity-infused relationship with different plastic elements.
Shiori is a Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Taking inspiration from feminist anthropology, her research approaches the space of the household as a generative site of transnational movement and actions. Her research has appeared in a diverse range of anthropology and cognate journals, including the most recent editing of the Special Issue on “Gender, Migration and Digital Communications” in the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies. Her current research tracks the transnational lives of plastic waste in the Asia Pacific regions by exploring the household practices of consumption and recycling of plastics in plastic waste exporting countries.