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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Garbage Disposal In Japan

As with any good writer worth his salt, the germ of an idea is often initiated by a random thought or comment uttered aloud or digitally - causing the so-called creative type to ponder with a near-audible “Hmmm…”

I get that all the time e-mailing with some of you dear readers and friends - honestly… I chat with some of you more than anyone else on the planet…

Anyhow, one such random comment involved the comment about how no one in Japan wants to be a snitch - with the feedback: ”Tell that to the gaijin who doesn't sort his garbage properly before taking it out.”

I was lucky… I was there in those halcyon days when a guy just had to smile at a woman in Japan and he wouldn’t be all that surprised if she walked over and intimated a conversation. 

Back then… the early 1990s, if I wanted to throw out my garbage, I just had to bag it and toss it into the designated walled off area - and presto!  - garbage be-gone.

Of course, I’m from the days when the city of Toronto used to have twice a week garbage pick-ups. Tell us more Grandpa!

Nowadays, in the city of Toronto, we have to separate our recyclables, separate food waste, and separate “garbage”… knowing that food waste is picked up once a week, while the other two alternate on a weekly basis.

Other cities - such as Guelph, Ontario, Canada - had more comprehensive garbage formalities: having to separate wet and dry et al… which I once thought was interesting but nuts.

Having visited a waste disposal facility or two, I do know that there are people who go through recyclable garbage - ripping open bags and physically separating glass from plastic from paper et al… as well as the regular garbage people toss in… all so that various equipments can clean the real recyclables and prep them for actual recycling by companies that do such work.

So…  what, I wondered loud enough in my skull to hear an echo, do the Japanese do when it comes to handling their waste?

In the years since I left, they have gone whole hog into separation of various garbage types - even to the point where - yes - people snitch on one another.

Hey… in Japan, as we all know: the nail that stands up, gets hammered down (出る釘は打たれる)..

Japan has a very comprehensive garbage separation system. e     

Like most countries - different provinces/states or prefectures have different rules about what constitutes a specific garbage type. In fact - most town, cities and villages have different opinions on the matter.

It makes for a very confusing situation for anyone moving into a new situation in Japan—gaijin (foreigner) or nihonjin (Japanese).

The best thing to do is to check with your local town office for garbage disposal rules - or for your people who don’t speak the language - ask for “local” help if it isn’t offered to you first.

From, garbage in Japan is expected to be separated by the consumer at the home level by:
  1. Combustibles - described as food waste, old clothes, small quantities of yard waste, etc.;
  2. Non-combustibles - plastic wrappers, Styrofoam, metal containers, ceramic, etc.;
  3. Recyclables - plastic/glass bottles, metal cans, magazines, newspaper, corrugated cardboard, etc.;
  4. PET Bottles - plastic bottles made out of Polyethylene terephthalate;
  5. Large items - TVs, air conditioners, other old appliances, furniture, etc. (anything larger than 30 x 30 x 30 cm)
If you are me, you are now confused.

Look at Combustibles… old clothes?

So… wool, cloth, silk, leather… natural products….  but what about vinyl; - and no… I’m not talking about a skintight BDSM suit with zippers and a red ball for the mouth… and what about polyester? Rayon… these are chemically-created materials… nylons…

I can see all of those as combustibles… but food waste and yard waste can easily be reused as compost… but a pair of polyester socks or a 1980s skinny vinyl tie? That might be around for a while longer.

Regardless… it’s actually quite straightforward. It might mean having at least four different waste receptacles - which can take up a lot of space in one’s tiny Tokyo apartment…. or it might make one deposit one’s refuse in the appropriate container as soon as it becomes waste.

Here’s a graphic I found over at - the Echizen City International Association. English translation below graphic:

Panel 1: “Can I throw out all my glass bottles and cans on recycling day?”
Panel 2: “No. They are split up into recyclable and non-burnable trash.” “What?! How do you know which is which?”
Panel 3: “The main point is whether food was contained in them or not.” “For example, a jar of jam would be recyclable, while a makeup jar would be non-burnable trash!”   

That was actually quite helpful! (I did have to slightly alter the English translation in one of those comments, by the way, to make it a better conversation.)

The website points out some additional things that are considered “combustible” waste:  
  • plastic-coated paper and book covers;
  • paper drink packs and metallic-coated paper wrappers for candy and treats;
  • paper plates and cups, and other paper products soiled with food;
  • menstrual products, paper diapers;
  • wood chips, yard waste (leaves, sticks, branches, and so on from pruning).
Who the fug is burning books? What is this - some sort of Bradbury-esque Fahrenheit 451 world? Firemen burning books?

Look - I could understand that someone might be throwing out their copies of a manga (usually as thick as what people once called a phone book) - but books? That’s just wrong. BTW: Feel free to send me any English-language manga. Let me be your waste disposal system.

Actually - feel free to send me any Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge comic books - in any language. You don’t want’em - I do. I may not be able to read’em - but let me worry about that. Covers must be attached (and just one copy per issue). Seriously. I also collect sports cards and pre-1930s tobacco cards featuring aviation (cards inserted in cigarette packs, cigar boxes or tobacco pouches). I’m your garbage man. 

Anyhow - that Echizen City International Association website notes that when it comes to non-combustibles,  people often make mistakes - which is why some Japanese people might snitch on you.

Bottles and cans not used for food and drink products (for example, makeup bottles) should not be thrown out on recycling day. Bottles and cans that are not used for food and drink products are all non-burnable garbage.

When disposing of them - and there’s no individual waste system like you see in the image at the very top (taken from (You'll notice that the signage is in Japanese AND English), these non-food non-combustible are supposed to be placed in a transparent bag.

Further examples of non-combustibles are: Plastic packaging and ties (polypropylene bands), plastic clips, scissors, rulers, markers, rubber bands and other stationery products, glass ornaments, eyeglasses, metal lids from glass jars, electric cords (cut shorter than 1 meter!), hangers, wire mesh, CD’s and CD cases (DVDs too), drying agents and thermal gels…

Interesting to me are the fact that Japan wants consumers to separate the lid from the package - at least when it comes to glass jars and their metal lids.

I know that glass is smashed and lids are removed at waste disposal centers in Toronto… but perhaps they aren’t in Japan…. and is left up to the consumer.

But… if you look at the initial separation into five classes, its shows us : 3) Recyclables - plastic/glass bottles, metal cans, magazines, newspaper, corrugated cardboard, etc.

So… why can’t one toss the metal lid from a glass jar in as a recyclable?

Is that lid a recyclable or is it a non-combustable?

That’s why you need to check with your particular municipality!

It's not color coded, but there are graphics - these ones all in Japanese. Image from:
I took this information from multiple sources - IE: differing parts of Japan… obviously there isn’t just one answer.

But at least you have a better idea than you had before. I hope.

Andrew Joseph

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