Japanese Waste

One of the interesting thing I find when I go to other countries is to compare how they go about their day-to-day lives differently to home and to see if there is anything we can learn.

Japan has one of the most extensive recycling systems in the world, but it also varies by prefecture and establishment, so it is pretty confusing. In fact, on the day we arrived in Niseko, the hostel gave us a 20 minute talk on how to throw stuff away!

In addition to the bins above was cardboard, metals & foils, and tetra pack. Everything that was thrown away had to be thoroughly washed and dried and the tetra packs had to be cut open into a flat net.  There are a few things, like tea bags, that didn’t go in the place we expected, so it was pretty confusing.

It is fantastic that there is so much separation of waste going on, because separated waste can be sent off in different directions to be useful. However, in places with less extensive bins, the options are burnable or unburnable. It seems like a lot of recyclable material (paper in particular is often not separated) is actually just going to an incinerator which is not necessarily using the energy to create power.


In the UK, the problem I see with systems like this is that having so many categories is confusing. Without clear guidelines there is always going to be contamination and actually I believe the system available in Cardiff, where all recycling is together is probably better for resident participation, because if in doubt, recycle it, knowing that the recycling centre will be sorting it anyway so can filter it out there if it’s not suitable. I just wish they didn’t use plastic bags for collections because the seagulls are relentless!

In Japan, unlike the UK though, it is safe to assume that everyone will be doing their best all of the time. If you put out rubbish that is incorrectly sorted the bag gets returned to your doorstep because every bag is labelled with the address, but if it’s not clear what is wrong with the contents this is a pretty unhelpful strategy.

It also seems to me that there is too much waste in the first place. The Reduce-Reuse-Recycle hierarchy seems to have been turned on it’s head, with people totally ok with the ridiculous amounts of plastic (individually wrapped pears anyone?!)  on their supermarket shelves because they believe that the waste is well managed.

Not all is lost though. In Japan it is custom to look after the things that you have so they stay nice for a really long time. However, that doesn’t make them exempt from the speed of modern day fashion. As a result, there are loads of second hand shops where the clothes, electronics and pretty much anything else you could want, are all in really good condition. This would be a great addition to the UK, or perhaps our existing charity shops just need a bit of an overhaul. A large proportion of the clothes I found in 2nd Street in Sapporro were Zara basics, but the ground floor was full of designer gear, including Canada Goose and Gucci, everything seemed to be being sold for about 50% of their original price.

In summary, I believe the UK could learn from the Second Hand marketing strategy here in Japan, but Japan should consider reducing the amount of waste they are producing in the first place.

What are your thoughts?

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