Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Blog Action Day : Recycling in Japan

Today over 15,000 blogs are participating in Blog Action Day. Bloggers around the world are writing about an important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment.

One topic that I am particularly interested in is the recycling of household waste. Here in Tokyo there are not as many categories of recyclable material as there were in Korea. Life was easier in the apartment block in Seoul, we could take everything into the basement and sort into the various receptacles. In Setagaya-ku we have to store up the materials and put out them out for roadside collection on different days of the week. This leaflet came round last month informing us of a new schedule which our friendly local shop owner helped us translate:

Setagaya ku recycling instructions in Japanese

Bottles, cans, newspapers and cardboard are collected Wednesdays. Plastic PET bottles, which have just this month started to be collected, go out every other Saturday but only after they have been washed and had their lids removed. Metals and other items also go out on alternate Saturdays.

Before this new regime started refuse was sorted into two types : burnable and non burnable which corresponded to the two methods of disposal: incineration and landfill. The definitions of the two types of waste were, to my mind, counter-intuitive. Paper and food waste were classed as burnable and went to the incinerator, whereas plastics were classed as non-burnable and went to landfill. Why would you want to bury something uncompostable and burn something that would easily decompose? The answer was in an article in the Japan times last week entitled Clueless policy persists as Japan burns the unburnables.

Not surprisingly finance and politics were the main drivers. In 1973 the capacity of Tokyo's incinerators was insufficient to handle the amount of refuse being produced. The priority for burning was raw garbage, since it was considered too unsanitary to bury. Plastic was deemed OK to bury, so in order to ease the burden on incinerators all plastic waste was separated and dumped in landfills. By 1997 incinerator capacity had caught up with demand and improved technology allowed refuse to be incinerated at a higher temperature.

Now, Setagaya-ku is one of several pilot neighbourhoods that are switching to incineration of plastic waste. This will reduce the volume of material going to landfill and also provide energy from the heat of combustion. The landfill site currently used for Tokyo will be full in 35 years, and this change will only extend the life of the dump by 15 years.

50 years is all we have in Tokyo until we are swamped in our own refuse. It may sound like a long time, but the problem of waste disposal does not go away. Think of the three R's : Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Individually it may seem like we cannot do much, but every bit helps. For example, if all 12 million blog readers involved in Blog Action Day recycled one aluminium can it would save the equivalent of 3 million barrels of crude oil and reduce landfill usage by over five thousand cubic meters.

What are you doing to save us from drowning in our own rubbish?

Some other links on Recycling in Tokyo:
Pink Tentacle on Cell Phone re-use
Other Items you can recycle from Dumb Little Man
The Azerbaijan view of Japanese recycling
The Kiwi's view of Japanese recycling


Anonymous said...

Apart from emphasizing on recycling, we should also discourage trash making habit of ors. For instance we can save a lot of trees by using our own coffee cups instead of using paper coffee cups provided at the coffee shops that are related to melamine poisoniong.
For more information, visit www.cupofdeath.com.

Anonymous said...

In my city, in Ontario, we have a 3 bag system. A blue bag is used for dry material, a green bag is used for wet material and a clear bag is used for waste and are collected every week. The newest thing about to be put into action is the building of a processing plant that will convert much of our remaining waste into methane gas. The gas will then be used to fuel a hydro station and provide power to surrounding communities.