Friday, January 27, 2012

Think 2 Recycling Bins Are a Hassle? Try Sorting 34
Photo: Takuya Matsumoto
If you think recycling is a hassle, take a step across the Pacific Ocean to Kamikatsu, Japan. This small town of 2,000 residents on rural Shikoku Island has long taken waste separation to new heights and to what some in town feel is too extreme.

Garbage collection centers located throughout the town host 34 different waste bins lined up for just about every type of waste imaginable. Above each yellow or blue bin is a poster that describes what can be disposed in each separate crate. Cans, bottles and cardboard naturally have their own bins. But then the waste separation process becomes even more granular. Aerosol cans have their own distinct bin. So do cigarette lighters, disposable chopsticks, books and textiles.

Light bulbs and batteries must be separated, and glass from goods like mirrors and thermometers must not end up in bin #5, which is for clear glass bottles only. Speaking of glass, residents have to pay attention as their are six different bins. Even cigarette and other butane lighters have their own special recycling bin.

Do not mix up your plastic bottles because the ones that cooking oil or vinegar must be separated from PET bottles for water or soft drinks. Take those plastic lids off, too – they also have their own bin, which is set near the bottle and can bins so residents can conveniently plunk them into their own little space. As for the stacking of paper products, residents are required to use a tape made from recycled milk cartons instead of plastic or cotton rope.

Much of the trash ends up hauled away by recycling companies that are contracted with the town. But reuse is an important aspect of Kamikatsu’s waste diversion campaign. Unwanted goods, such as tableware and toys, are stacked on shelves so that other locals can take them home if they have a use for them. Local women apply their sewing techniques and churn unwanted textiles into chic handbags, sandals or even dolls. As for food scraps, each home has a composting bin, a requirement of residents since 1991.
Photo: Takuya Matsumoto
All that separation of bottles and jars is not enough, however: the items must be washed before they are disposed, which is one reason why as many as 40 percent of Kamikatsu’s residents have been unhappy with the system in the past. Most residents now accept or are resigned to the system, with the results that children are learning recycling habits at a very early age.

According to town councilman Takuya Matsumoto, this intensive recycling is far more preferable to incineration. While a contract with an incineration plant would save time and money if implemented immediately, Kimikatsu’s leaders believe that the town’s finances, not to mention the local environment, are better off with this current sort, recycle and reuse system.
Kamikatsu’s shift towards its aggressive recycling program began in 1995, when the town only sorted out glass and cans. In 2003, the town passed a “Zero Waste” ordinance, and in 2005, the program expanded to what is now that system of 34 separate waste bins. With the exception of three public holidays a year, residents can bring their trash from the early morning until after midnight, where they can sort their unwanted trash with the guidance of a city employee.

The city also runs a program that collects waste from elderly residents who are not up to the task of carrying their trash to the recycling center for a small fee. Note how the responsibility for disposing and separating the trash falls on residents: Kamikatsu has no garbage trucks. Volunteers, said Matsumoto in an interview, have an enormous role in ensuring that the town’s recycling program runs smoothly, and their efforts have resulted in a clean place to live with no landfill or incinerators.

The overall goal for Kamikatsu is to achieve zero waste by 2020. With its recycling rate well over 90 percent, this rural hamlet is well on its way.

Home Electronics Disposal

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