Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Recycling in Japan: a Guide

It's a bit of a cliche to go on about Japan's efficiency, cleanliness or tendency to recycle obsessively. But if you live here then you've probably have a few headaches sorting your rubbish.

For that reason, AccessJ has put together a guide to help you find your recycling feet, a post to consider when determining living costs in Japan.

Depending on where you live, you will have different rules governing your recycling. If you live in Kamikatsu you will have 44 types of sorting to do!

You'll need to check with your local city office for exact details, although you should be given some sort of Japanese (or English if you get lucky) guide and schedule when you register for your gaijin card. This is usually very detailed, containing pictorial guides for many hard to identify items.

In my town we have three trash pickup days per week. Two for combustible garbage (food, clothes etc), and one for plastics. Once every two weeks they also pick up other trash - paper/card, non-recyclables, cans and large objects. Large objects require some disassembley (no loose parts allowed) and a sticker (which must be bought from a supermarket or convenience store). Once a month there is a deposit point for glass and PET bottles. It's a little walk from my place, and you have to get down there before 9am on a Saturday. Other things, like polystyrene food trays and milk cartons, must be deposited at local supermarkets.

The bags for recycling are pretty expensive (40-60yen each), but this money presumably goes into the recycling process.

Sorting your rubbish can be a bit confusing, but most, if not all, products will carry one of these tags:

Recycling kami.svg
Paper ( Kami)
Recycling pla.svg Plastic (プラ Pura)
Recycling alumi.svg Aluminium (アルミ Arumi)
Recycling steel.svg Steel (スチール Suchiiru)
Recycling pet.svg PET bottles

Sometimes the product will have several of the above and indicate which part belongs in which category. For example, a small carton of fruit juice will have the straw and box treated separately; and a box of Pocky will have the card outer and plastic inner separately identified.

Consult your guide/city office on how to correctly bag these things and when to put them out. It differs because some places burn more categories; allowing them to be bagged together.

Remember that it is "ok" to (i.e. most people do sometimes) dump stuff at 7-11 or other convenience stores, within reason. Filling up their PET bin is a bit cheeky, but dumping 5 bottles or a large envelope filled with cardboard packaging won't raise any eyebrows. However, they usually have no place for burnables unless you count the little bin in the women's toilets (although some will simply have an "other" bin which is for pretty much anything).

Here is what we have to sort and recycle (separately) in our small mountain city:
  • Paper
  • Card
  • Milk cartons
  • Steel and aluminium cans
  • Recyclable plastics
  • Non-recyclable plastics and others
  • Polystyrene food trays
  • Burnable food waste, clothes etc.
  • Glass/broken glass
  • PET bottles/lids
  • Large, disassembled items
  • Batteries

  • This healthy obsession with waste-not want-not is an important part of Japanese daily life. The axiom "mottainai" is used on a daily basis to remind us to not waste anything. This finds it's way to meals, too (unfortunately). So don't be surprised if your coworkers/students make a big deal of you leaving or giving away any food. I even had to provide a doctor's note proving my allergy to milk before I was allowed to cancel the order with my school lunch.
  • The Japanese Containers and Packaging Recycling Association has a surprisingly interesting (English) rundown of the recycling process, including what your rubbish is set to become in the future (did you know PET bottles are turned into public service uniforms?) It also has a lot of impressive statistics of the amounts and changing costs of recycled materials.
  • BBC News has an interesting short video piece about Kamikatsu.

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