Rubbish Management and Japan

For those who have traveled to Japan, you would find that the streets of Japan are very clean.  Very very clean.  This sure was my first impression of Japan when I first visited.  I still continue to think so today.  But the question that continues to baffle me is “how does Japan manage to keep it so clean when there are barely any rubbish bins available on the streets?” I remember when I first visited Japan and I had to look for a bin, I simply couldn’t find one.  It was annoying.  I don’t recall exactly how I handled that bottle, but I do recall using the rubbish bins at my hotel and completely overloading them with whatever I couldn’t throw out while I was outside exploring Japan.

Since my move to Japan, I have come to realise Japanese people have a very respectful attitude when it comes to dealing with rubbish.  There are actually bins close to convenient stores or on train platforms (but may or may not be located in very obvious places), but it is specifically used for rubbish you have and not for dumping household rubbish (there is a sign that warns you and someone is always watching).  Managing household rubbish is a completely different cattle of fish.  The rubbish system here requires one to separate things into certain categories, packaged properly and ready to be thrown out on certain days of the week or times of the month.  To make things more fun, each Japanese city or suburb has different rules and guidelines.  When I first moved into my apartment, I was given a basic table telling me how rubbish was to be discarded.  The first time I was told about this, I was overwhelmed.  I learnt that rubbish is divided into “burnable” and “non-burnable” rubbish categories in Japan.  In my area, for example, I can only throw out food scraps on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Should I have paper material like junk mail, paper bags and paper boxes, I can only throw these out on every 2nd or 4th Wednesday.  As for plastic items, I can leave out for the rubbish man to collect on every Thursday.  These plastic items only refer to water bottles, small plastic material like convenient store containers.  I haven’t even mentioned anything about discarding cans, batteries, specific toiletries, metal material, light bulbs, large furniture, glass and so on! My town’s rubbish system is drastically different to what my friend A, who lives in Tachikawa city of Tokyo, has to deal with.  My advice for everyone moving to Japan is to ask your peers about the rules.  You will at least receive some basic information material on how to manage the rubbish in your area, but asking and getting a verbal response is much easier in my opinion.  You can very easily sit and look at the paper material for hours and not understand what you need to do.

To this point, I have lived in Japan for over a year now.  I continue to find handling rubbish in Japan to be both confusing and frustrating!  I miss the Australian rubbish system where I could dump everything in that one black bin. One would argument that the system in Australia is lazy and not environmentally friendly.  I would argument that the Japanese rubbish system is overly complicated and over the top.  This culture shock will continue on for a while I would say.

PS: The featured image of this post is a photo from a place called Gunkanjima Island located in Kyushu Island of Japan.  Gunkanjima Island is a deserted island now where Japanese people to go there to collect natural resources.  This photo has no related this post! I just thought it would be nice to show some pretty pictures 🙂