Steps In The Right Direction: Recycling in Japan

What do you think of when you hear the word Japan? Vending machines? Cat Cafes? Maybe the (in)famously busy Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo? There’s no argument that these are some of the wildly wonderful things you can see whilst visiting this beautiful country. One thing that you might not know about Japan, however, is that the nation has an incredible recycling system. On my recent holiday to the land of the rising sun, I became obsessed with the locals’ dedication to recycling in Japan. Citizens take waste management super seriously and it definitely got me thinking about what Australians can learn from the Japanese.

Bags and boxes of rubbish from restaurants in Osaka. Bins are thoughtfully separated and left on the street to be collected by the council in a matter of hours.

It’s all about starting a new habit

Back in the 1960s, Japan’s population was growing significantly and the island nation didn’t have enough suitable space for landfill. It was, and still is one of the biggest polluters in the world. The nation desperately needed to change their ways and improve their recycling system. This has led Japan to become one of the most successful countries in the world for recycling plastics. Recycling in Japan has just become a way of life. Citizens don’t question it, they just do it because they’ve been trained to. It would be a great step forward if municipal councils in Australia followed the Japanese lead and encouraged more people to separate their rubbish properly and recycle. Sure, it would be a huge learning curve in the beginning but it would eventually become normal and our planet would thank us for it!

Wouldn’t it be great to one day rival Kamikatsu? We could really learn some lessons from this small Japanese community known as the “Zero Waste Town.” The locals separate their trash into over 34 different categories and band together to keep their beautiful hillside town safe from pollution. What an amazing effort!

Make recycling convenient

In Japan, you will find a set of categorised bins at almost every convenience store. And if you happen to be in one that doesn’t have visible bins, just walk 20 metres down the road to another convenience store. They are literally everywhere! This makes it really easy for people to be able to dispose of their rubbish thoughtfully whilst on the move. There is usually one bin for combustible rubbish, non-combustible rubbish and recyclables.

Categorised bins at Family Mart in Osaka, Japan

Easy waste management in local communities

While visiting a small town called Matsue in the north of Honshu island, I noticed a rubbish sorting system right next to the house I was staying in. I was visiting a Japanese friend and he explained to me that everyone who lives in the houses nearby can come here and dispose of all their household waste thoughtfully. Rubbish is easily separated into PET bottles, cans, glass bottles and general combustibles. The Matsue community even goes to the effort of removing all the plastic labels from their PET bottles!

A community rubbish sorting station in Matsue, Japan.
Glass bottles neatly sorted in Matsue, Japan.

Who knew that recycling could be fun and cute?

There’s a huge emphasis on cute or “kawaii” culture almost everywhere you go, which even applies to recycling in Japan. Some bins are even covered in cute drawings of cartoon characters. I’m not saying that all cities around the world need to do the same! But I definitely think that a light-hearted approach to a serious matter can be a great thing. While I was at a train station, I came across these cute bins on the platform and I thought that it was a nice, fun way to encourage people to recycle properly.

Cute rubbish bins at Kamakura Station, Japan.

Japan, we salute you for all your efforts in the recycling game! Although the country does produce a lot of plastic waste, they are working hard to make sure all this waste is disposed of properly. It’d be great to one day see Australia implement some of the solutions Japan has put in place to combat waste.

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