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[greenyes] How Do Japanese Dump Trash? Let Us Count the Myriad Ways

How Do Japanese Dump Trash? Let Us Count the Myriad Ways

Published: May 12, 2005

YOKOHAMA, Japan - When this city recently doubled the number of garbage
categories to 10, it handed residents a 27-page booklet on how to sort their
Highlights included detailed instructions on 518 items.

Kamikatsu, Japan, has 44 categories of trash, and Masaharu Tokimoto, 76, is
sometimes baffled by them. But he is still a diligent recycler.

In Yokohama, trash that escapes recycling is put in transparent bags and
loaded into
trucks for incineration.

Lipstick goes into burnables; lipstick tubes, "after the contents have been
used up,"
into "small metals" or plastics. Take out your tape measure before tossing a
under 12 inches, it goes into small metals, but over that it goes into bulky

Socks? If only one, it is burnable; a pair goes into used cloth, though only
if the socks
"are not torn, and the left and right sock match." Throw neckties into used
cloth, but
only after they have been "washed and dried."

"It was so hard at first," said Sumie Uchiki, 65, whose ward began wrestling
with the
10 categories last October as part of an early trial. "We were just not used
to it. I
even needed to wear my reading glasses to sort out things correctly."

To Americans struggling with sorting trash into a few categories, Japan may
a foretaste of daily life to come. In a national drive to reduce waste and
recycling, neighborhoods, office buildings, towns and megalopolises are
raising the
number of trash categories - sometimes to dizzying heights.

Indeed, Yokohama, with 3.5 million people, appears slack compared with
a town of 2,200 in the mountains of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main
islands. Not content with the 34 trash categories it defined four years ago
as part of a
major push to reduce waste, Kamikatsu has gradually raised the number to 44.

In Japan, the long-term push to sort and recycle aims to reduce the amount of
garbage that ends up in incinerators. In land-scarce Japan, up to 80 percent
garbage is incinerated, while a similar percentage ends up in landfills in
the United

The environmentally friendlier process of sorting and recycling may be more
expensive than dumping, experts say, but it comparable in cost to

"Sorting trash is not necessarily more expensive than incineration," said
Kidohshi, a garbage researcher at the Center for the Strategy of Emergence at
Japan Research Institute. "In Japan, sorting and recycling will make further

For Yokohama, the goal is to reduce incinerated garbage by 30 percent over
the next
five years. But Kamikatsu's goal is even more ambitious: eliminating garbage

In the last four years, Kamikatsu has halved the amount of incinerator-bound
garbage and raised its recycled waste to 80 percent, town officials said. Each
household now has a subsidized garbage disposal unit that recycles raw garbage
into compost.

At the single Garbage Station where residents must take their trash, 44 bins
everything from tofu containers to egg cartons, plastic bottle caps to
chopsticks, fluorescent tubes to futons.

On a recent morning, Masaharu Tokimoto, 76, drove his pick-up truck to the
and expertly put brown bottles in their proper bin, clear bottles in theirs.
He looked at
the labels on cans to determine whether they were aluminum or steel. Flummoxed
about one item, he stood paralyzed for a minute before mumbling to himself,
must be inside."

Some 15 minutes later, Mr. Tokimoto was done. The town had gotten much cleaner
with the new garbage policy, he said, though he added: "It's a bother, but I
throw away the trash in the mountains. It would be a violation."

In towns and villages where everybody knows one another, not sorting may be
unthinkable. In cities, though, not everybody complies, and perhaps more than
other act, sorting out the trash properly is regarded as proof that one is a
responsible citizen. The young, especially bachelors, are notorious for not
And landlords reluctant to rent to non-Japanese will often explain that
foreigners just
cannot - or will not - sort their trash.

In Yokohama, after a few neighborhoods started sorting last year, some
stopped throwing away their trash at home. Garbage bins at parks and
stores began filling up mysteriously with unsorted trash.

"So we stopped putting garbage bins in the parks," said Masaki Fujihira, who
oversees the promotion of trash sorting at Yokohama City's family garbage

Enter the garbage guardians, the army of hawk-eyed volunteers across Japan who
comb offending bags for, say, a telltale gas bill, then nudge the owner onto
the right

One of the most tenacious around here is Mitsuharu Taniyama, 60, the owner of
small insurance business who drives around his ward every morning and evening,
looking for missorted trash. He leaves notices at collection sites: "Mr.
your practice of sorting out garbage is wrong. Please correct it."

"I checked inside bags and took especially lousy ones back to the owners'
doors," Mr. Taniyama said.

He stopped in front of one messy location where five bags were scattered
about, and
crows had picked out orange peels from one.

"This is a typical example of bad garbage," Mr. Taniyama said, with disgust.
problem at this location is that there is no community leader. If there is no
leader, there is chaos."

He touched base with his lieutenants in the field. On the corner of a street
with large
houses, where the new policy went into effect last October, Yumiko Miyano,
56, was
waiting with some neighbors.

Ms. Miyano said she now had 90 percent compliance, adding that, to her
those resisting tended to be "intellectuals," like a certain university
professor or an
official at Japan Airlines up the block.

"But the husband is the problem - the wife sorts her trash properly," one
said of the airlines family.

Getting used to the new system was not without its embarrassing moments.

Shizuka Gu, 53, said that early on, a community leader sent her a letter
her for not writing her identification number on the bag with a "thick
felt-tip pen." She
was chided for using a pen that was "too thin."

"It was a big shock to be told that I had done something wrong," Ms. Gu said.
"So I
couldn't bring myself to take out the trash here and asked my husband to take
it to
his office. We did that for one month."

At a 100-family apartment complex not too far away, Sumishi Kawai was keeping
eyes trained on the trash site before pickup. Missorting was easy to spot,
given the
required use of clear garbage bags with identification numbers. Compliance was
perfect - almost.

One young couple consistently failed to properly sort their trash. "Sorry!
We'll be
careful!" they would say each time Mr. Kawai knocked on their door holding
of their transgressions.

At last, even Mr. Kawai - a small 77-year-old man with wispy white hair, an
smile and a demeanor that can only be described as grandfatherly - could take

"They were renting the apartment, so I asked the owner, 'Well, would it be
to have them move?' " Mr. Kawai said, recalling, with undisguised
satisfaction, that
the couple was evicted two months ago.

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