How does Japan segregate its garbage?
The world is increasingly investing in efficient garbage disposal mechanisms as the garbage situation in our day to day lives has reached an unprecedented level. Not just the volume of garbage, but also the type of garbage makes governments to think of safe ways of disposal. Plastics and other non-biodegradable materials have made it essential for garbage sorting. Japan has a detailed and sometimes complex garbage disposal system. Often, it would be overwhelming for a foreigner coming to Japan to come to terms with the detailed disposal procedure.
Typically, across Japan, garbage needs to be sorted into the categories of “Burnable”, “Non-Burnable”, “Burnable Hazardous Waste” and “Large-sized waste”. Although, each prefecture could have their own classification, but almost everywhere, burnable and non-burnable garbage have to be separated from each other. What constitutes burnable and non-burnable can be quite confusing and should be confirmed at the local ward office or at the website of your community. Always, ask your landlord or your rental agency for garbage classification and disposal schedule.
Apparently, plastic is burnable garbage in Nagoya. I am sure in most countries this classification would not fit in for plastics. It was often a frustrating experience for me to sort out garbage as the classification was not elaborate. I once asked my colleagues, would a banana peel be burnable or non-burnable? And the answers were 50% in favor of burnable and 50% in favor of non-burnable. Even, Japanese do not know for sure the classification for many items. Hence, when in doubt always make sure the more hazardous material such as batteries, spray cans, ceramics etc. are not included in either burnable or non-burnable category. It is widely accepted if you mix up small amount of items between burnable and non-burnable categories.
Also, there is a schedule for disposal of garbage. Typically, burnable garbage is picked up on two days of the week whereas the non-burnable and other waste categories are to be disposed on separate days of the week. Usually, for apartments and houses there is a designated place to dispose the garbage bags and garbage should only be disposed in these places. Do not try to dump your trash on the road or areas not designated for garbage disposal as there will be heavy penalties if, caught doing so. Also, do not dump your old furniture or other useless large items at the garbage disposal places without an appointment and without paying disposal fee. There are cameras everywhere and people do get caught doing so.
One needs to pay to the municipality to dispose large items such as furniture, TVs, futons, mattresses and electronic appliances. Contact your ward office to make an appointment for a disposal and provide payment. In some wards, stickers for garbage disposal could be purchased at convenience stores which can be pasted on the items being disposed. Again, check with ward office for price of disposing for specific items as it varies according to size and kind.
There are designated garbage bags for each type of garbage. They can be purchased at supermarkets, convenience stores or 100-yen stores. They are color coded and vary from ward to ward. So, it is best to check with your landlord for the correct set of garbage bags to be used. These bags need to be tied up and disposed at the designed garbage disposal places for collection by the municipal staff.
Unfortunately, I do not know enough to cover everything about garbage disposal in Japan. There are other finer details such one should dispose the caps, labels and the main bottle separately (in different colour coded bags) for all used bottles. Although, I respected their rules during my stay I was often confused and frustrated with the garbage disposal rules. But there is justification to this complex garbage disposal system of Japan. Apparently, the government invests a lot of money and resources to properly recycle the garbage across Japan. The sorted out garbage goes through several steps of recycling at the various recycling centres. Hence, any mismatch in the garbage sorting leads to extra effort for their staff and possible malfunctioning of their machines.
I once heard a story from my colleague about a guy who was offered punishment by the local ward office for being a serial offender of sorting garbage incorrectly. His punishment was to pay a fine, attend counseling for one day and take a tour of the garbage recycling unit! You sure wouldn’t want to be that guy.
The following is a list of links containing information about garbage disposal in three big cities: