Alicia’s Communities Field Note

Title: Japan’s Smart Approach to Solid Waste

Abstract: In a small country with so many people, it’s important to use resources wisely and recycle! The way Japan does this is very different from the United States. Let’s take a look at how Japan manages solid waste in a smart way.

Introduction: How do nations meet their communities’ needs?

Nation meet their communities’ needs by providing services that people are interested in and will help everyone out. Maybe a community would like to keep a natural area as a park. Then it will be protected and the community can enjoy it. Roads are important for the nation to build so that its people can travel to different places. Nations also build schools so that everyone in the community can access it and get a good education. These things and more meet the communities’ needs.

What community need did I learn about?

Did you know that recycling is not the same everywhere in the world? I didn’t know how different it could be until I came to Japan. Every nation has a different approach to waste management.

After I came to Japan and moved into my dorm, I noticed that there wasn’t just one bin for garbage and one for recycling. There were lots of different bins. There were Burnable and Raw Garbage, Cans, Glass, PET Bottles and Plastic Garbage bins. When I saw this, I realized that Japan found waste management to be important.

Why does the community have this need?

Japan has to use their resources carefully. It is such a small country, and there aren’t many places to live because of the mountains. It would be a waste to have these open spaces where people could live to be occupied by landfills instead! It is difficult to find places to have landfills or incinerators that burn the waste, so Japan needs to be careful with waste management.

Is this need being met? How?

I feel that Japan is doing a great job with meeting communities’ needs in regards to waste management. It is easy to access places to recycling the local community. Outside of every vending machine is a bin to put the cans or glass used for the drink when you are finished. Even fast food restaurants recycle! At McDonalds, there are certain trash bins you put leftover food in and certain ones you put the plastic wrapping in.

The public feels that taking care of the environment is very important. I noticed this when I came to Japan. Japan is extremely clean. It is so rare seeing any trash on the ground. Every day, I see people cleaning up anything they find on the ground or caught in a bush.

There are certain ideas that I have heard about in Japan to control resources and limit waste. One of them is to reduce packaging. I have bought a bag of cookies that comes in a large plastic bag, and every cookie inside is individually wrapped in plastic. Noodles come in plastic bags instead of cardboard boxes. A lot of resources are wasted when gifts are given to other people and use lots of materials for the wrapping, only to have it be thrown out later when it’s unwrapped.

Another idea is to use Eco-Bags. This has recently become more popular in Japan. These canvas bags can be used over and over again to put groceries and other purchased items in instead of using plastic or paper bags. Maybe you’ve seen some of these bags in stores in the United States.

This kind of sorting for recycling was not always in place. Before, trash only had to be sorted by being burnable or non-burnable. In 1997, a law passed requiring trash to be sorted into categories like PET bottles, glass, and paper cartons. In 2000, a plastics category was added to be sorted.

Some groups are working hard to address solid waste management issues in Japan. Did you know that steel cans are not required to be recycled in Japan? But it’s amazing that Japan has the world’s highest level of steel cans being recycled in the world! There is a non-profit organization called the Japan Steel Can Recycling Association which has helped influenced recycling these cans. The Japanese Container and Package Recycling Association (JCPRA) is a government organization that regulates the recycling.

I talked to some of my Japanese friends about what they thing about the issue of trash. First, we talked about trash cans and recycling in the community. They said that there are trash cans located on public streets, but there aren’t very many. In Japan, when you buy a drink at a vending machine, you are expected to drink it and finish it there, then put it in the proper bin next to the vending machine. It is extremely rare to see people eating or drinking while walking or in a train. This same idea holds true for convenience stores. If you are hungry and want a snack from the convenience store, you eat it outside of the store and put the wrapping in the proper bin located there. Individual homes recycle trash, too. There are certain days where one of the categories will be picked up. Maybe Tuesday will be the day that PET bottles are picked up in the community. All families will put bags of PET bottles in a bin to be picked up.

We also talked about the use of plastics in grocery stores. There are no paper bags in grocery stores. Grocery stores rarely charge money for plastic bags. But they will give you very few plastic bags to use. When I shop at the store, the most bags I am ever given is three. The grocery items are heavily packaged with plastic, though. As I mentioned before, foods may be wrapped by so much plastic even though it is not necessary. All of my friends feel this is a waste. One of my Japanese friends even talked about the plastic wasted at Tokyo Disney. There are items, like popcorn, that are held in cute containers with Disney characters on it, but these containers are all made of plastic. She said that it would be better to use something like paper cardboard.

The last thing we talked about is water. People sometimes drink tap water. Usually they will put the tap water in a kettle and make tea. For cold water, they buy gigantic bottles of water at the grocery store. They often drink other drinks, like cold flavored teas or juice, which come in cartons or PET bottles. These items also contribute to waste.

Thanks to living in Japan and talking to Japanese people about waste management, I can see how effect their system is and some of the issues that still remain. I hope that in the future, the United States can start a recycling system like this to help protect the environment.


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