This article on Recycling and Garbage disposal in Japan is part of our series on Life in Tokyo. Be sure to check more articles in our series to help you out with various topics about Japan!
Our news and media outlets in recent years have seen a spike in issues surrounding recycling and garbage disposal. It is not a secret that our poor use of resources and garbage disposal has contributed to the pollution on our lands and in our oceans. Many countries have taken steps to combat this. Ultimately we are all beginning to realize the negative influence we have had on our environment, and we hope to combat this now to leave a better environment for future generations.
Recycling (especially with regards to plastic use), is incredibly important as it reduces our carbon emissions, reduces the amount of waste we dispose of, and is simply the ethical approach to living compared to one-use items. Japan is a model country when it comes to recycling and waste disposal. There are various laws that Japan has implemented to help their citizens become more mindful of recycling, as well as making the best use of their recycling facilities.
This article will look at Japanese environmental programs, volunteering opportunities for those wishing to engage in sustainability issues, Recycling in Japan, and how to dispose of garbage properly in your area. For more information on finding a cheap apartment in a area of Tokyo, be sure to check out our guides on Apartments in Tokyo.
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How Recycling in Japan is Managed
So, how does Tokyo recycle their waste?
The first step is to place all the glass, plastic, and jars onto a conveyor belt and send it to the sorting section of the recycling plant. Over here, workers remove any items that are not able to be recycled. An inbuilt system then sorts the glass into three different types: clear, brown, or other. Small “catapults” are integrated on the conveyor belt that sends the right type of glass to the first floor where they break automatically.
Cans go through a different conveyor belt where magnets are used to divide the cans into an aluminum and steel pile. This metal is then twisted together and undergoes a chemical process which then allows the metal to be remade into cans, automotive parts, or construction material.
Clear plastic bottles (made from PET), and recycled and processed to make either new bottles, fabric, or even stationary. PET is a popular polyester resin, meaning that it can be recycled and reused in a variety of products.
Recycled plastics are the most commonly recycled material at a plant. This can include noodle cups, shampoo bottles, and even bento boxes. If plastic shopping bags have made their way into the mix, built-in fans blow these away with a strong force.
All this recycled material then undergoes a kind of “chemical rebirth”. Some Japanese recycling companies have even implemented new strategies to ensure everything sent to the recycling center is recycled with zero emissions. Plastics are broken down via a heat and gasification process, which could be considered as chemical recycling. Plastic is made from carbon and hydrogen, which then form long polymers. These polymers are broken down, which breaks down the plastic into its elementary gases.
Plastic is sent through a crusher machine as a physical way to break down the material before chemical recycling. The machine removes any metal in this pile, which is then sent to a recycling center. The plastic pile is then turned into a “mulch” which is shaped into a cylinder-like structure called refuse plastic fuel. This is then transported to the gasification plant where it is heated to between 600-800 degrees Celsius. This then turns the plastic into gas, which is then sent to a silo that is then heated to 1400 degrees Celsius and is oxidized by oxygen and steam. This gas is cooled down to 200 degrees Celsius, and then undergoes a cleaning stage which removes hydrogen chloride and sulfur. This cooling stage then also converts the carbon monoxide into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The hydrogen is turned into ammonia, and the carbon dioxide is sent to a separate plant.
Sorting your Recycling in Japan
Recycling in Japan does have a few tricky rules that might take a while to get your head around. The difficult part is that these rules can differ depending on the town you are in. However, because of Japan’s comprehensive recycling system, Japan has made it easier to ensure that the garbage that is tossed into the recycling bins are actually recycled! Most countries usually have three different bins: one for waste, one for recycling, and one for plant waste. Japan is quite meticulous when it comes to the sorting of their garbage.
As a word of advice, it is always good to gather all the information you need when you register your address. This usually takes place at the City or ward office. Inside the information packet provided, there should be all the relevant information regarding recycling, electricity, working times, etc. For now lets focus on recycling information in Tokyo's 23 wards, click on your ward below for disposal requirements.
Japan categorizes garbage into 4 main categories and understanding the differences will help you in the long run mastering the monotonous disposal of trash in Japan. Here are the main categories:
This category consists of pretty much your regular trash; Food waste, household waste, and paper scraps.
This is where things start to get a bit fuzzy, but let me clarify for you. This section consists of metals, pottery, glass, and ceramics. For example, frying pans, glass cups, or metal hangings would go in this category.
I think this section is self explanatory, but let me share with you the categories for Recycling in Japan. This section includes: Glass bottles, Cans, Plastic bottles (PET), miscellaneous (aerosol cans), and papers (cardboard or magazines). These are fairly easy to sort because normally, your trash collection area will have individual containers to place the different items in. However, a few important things to note, it’s generally preferred to take the caps and wrapper off plastic bottles before disposing of them. Additionally, when you get rid of multiple paper materials, they will need to be flattened and bound together in a bundle.
These items are simply things that can not be taken by a garbage truck. For example, refrigerators, Mattresses, and furniture. This section can be the most stressful to get rid of as it normally requires a lot of steps, but don’t stress we are going to cover easy ways to dispose of these items in the next section.
As a final note to this section, it is important to know that most cities have their own bags for each category of trash. You can purchase these bags at any local supermarket or convenience store. As mentioned earlier, you will be given instructions on your city’s garbage removal policy upon registering at the city office. Lastly, there is a lot of information for disposing of trash in Japan and it can seem overwhelming at first, but don’t stress you will get the hang of it with time.
Recycling Bulk Items in Japan
Each neighborhood has a designated recycling site where you can leave any material that needs to be disposed of or recycled. These are generally at a designated location on the street or if you live in an apartment complex, it will normally have a trash room. When you first come to Tokyo, you will be required to register where you live at a local town hall or ward office. Over there you will be given information on when trash and recycling is collected.
If you are disposing of combustibles, non-combustibles, recyclable products, and clear plastic bottles (PET) follow the guidelines in the last section and place them at the garbage collection point on its designated day. Although these guides do provide some guidance as to where and how to dispose of your garbage, it is also best to ask your neighbors, landlord, or apartment staff, or friends if you are unsure about something.
What do you do if you wish to dispose of dangerous items or electric appliances? For disposing of knives or tools, make sure that these are carefully wrapped and labeled. Disposing of oversized items or electrical appliances can either be given to the original seller to recycle (at the owner's discretion), a waste electrical appliance collection center, or to a recycling station. The best and most environmentally safe option would be to sell the item to a second-hand store or individual. Here is a list of options for getting rid of these pesky goods:
Electric Shop Recycling
At the owner's discretion, you may be able to recycle electronic appliances at the place of purchase. This usually comes with a delivery and recycling fee. If you are unable to give your appliances to the original store, your next best option is to call the Waste Electric Appliances Collection.
Contact you City's Bulk Collection Center
They have the tools to collect and dispose of electrical appliances and large articles. It is important to note that they do have a service fee. Feel free to give them a ring and ask for a quote!
Recycle your Items to a Second-hand Shop
If your electrical appliances and large articles are in great working condition, you may consider selling them to a recycling store. There are many recycling stores throughout Tokyo that can be easily found with a quick Google search. However, be warned most shops will charge you a fee for transporting large items that’s often more than the price they offer you for it.
Do the Neighborly thing and give them away
Here are a few sites and groups you could use:
Check out Social Media for Recycling in Japan groups
Here is a list of some popular SNS groups:
Sell them on Second-Hand Website
Some popular websites include:
6 Tips for Recycling in Japan
The following are some tips and tricks that you can implement in your daily routine to make Recycling in Japan a bit easier!
First things first, keep the 3 R’s in mind: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Before we recycle, there are several other steps we should take into consideration. The best way to minimize the amount of waste we dispose of is by reducing the amount we consume in the first place, and shifting what we purchase to items that are a long term investment. The first item to consider buying is a washable water bottle or tumbler. This not only cuts down on waste, but also saves you time and money. The second item to consider buying is a reusable shopping bag. The Japanese government imposed a tax on plastic bags meaning, you will be charged for each bag you request at any store. Finally, the containers for a large majority of common household goods (soap, seasonings, etc.) only need to be bought once. Afterwards, you can keep the original container and buy refills in a trash friendly package for a much cheaper price.
Have a good understanding of what is and what is not recyclable.
Make sure you understand the rules for recycling in your area, ie. what days certain items are being picked up, as well as where you should leave your recycling. Each area has its own standard, so ensure that you are familiar with these. In addition to these, make sure to do your part and avoid sending in any items that cannot be recycled. Pro tip, after registering at your city or ward office they will give you a welcome package, complete with a garbage disposal schedule. Keep this pinned to your refrigerator, take a picture of it on your phone, or set reminders on your phone to assure you never forget the various trash days.
Try to support brands that use recycled material in their packaging.
The goal of recycling is to keep materials flowing through a cyclical movement and to avoid the production of virgin materials that are ultimately going to end up in our rubbish bins. If we want to keep this loop going, as well as recycling our rubbish, we need to support brands that use recycled packaging for their products. This will get us one step closer to closing the loop. For more information check out this guide for Eco-friendly Fashion Brands in Japan.
They will check your bags if they aren’t properly sorted.
This is very important to know because in certain areas the garbage collectors will return your bag of trash to your door if it is not properly sorted. This is coming from experience, they are not above going through your trash to find an address and return it to prove a point. To avoid all of this hassle and embarrassment, just sort out your trash properly.
Most City offices offer classes for foreigners on ‘How to sort your trash.’
That’s right! Recycling in Japan is no joke and each city does their part to make sure it is done correctly. While I am being facetious, these classes can offer a lot of help if you are struggling to figure out the system. It's worth taking a look into if you want to give up a few hours of your time. If this interests you, then please check with your city office for more information.
Most supermarkets have a recycling machine that awards your money or points.
This is not the most practical way to dispose of your plastic bottles, but if you want to lug a bag of them to your local supermarket for money, then this is an option. Normally, they will only take plastic bottles. If the supermarket does have this system then you will be able to find the machine pretty easily.
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Recycling in Japan Volunteering Opportunities
SEGO is a not for profit organization that provides a platform for individuals wishing to make a positive change in the community. During the Spring and Fall, SEGO hosts an annual beach clean up day in Fujisawa to help remove any marine debris that could potentially reach our oceans. If you’re a resident in Tokyo and have a day off, the drive to Fujisawa is about 1.5 hours. If you are considering moving to Tokyo, Japan as a student teacher, SEGO offers beach clean up opportunities for both teachers and students, that are offered in both English and Japanese. Additionally, SEGO offers seminars that help integrate resources into the school curriculum. You can find more information on SEGO and their initiative through their website here.
In recent years, due to an increase in plastic production and consumption, we have been seeing an increased amount of trash polluting our oceans and seas. Many organizations in Japan are trying to combat this issue through volunteer beach cleanups and education programs. JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network) has sought to combat this issue through regular beach clean up days as well as campaigns to educate people on waste disposal and ways to get to the root of the problem.
JEAN appeals to the public by hosting mass beach clean up days during the spring and fall. In Autumn, JEAN also participates in a worldwide International Coastal Cleanup. To help ensure that our rubbish isn’t swept away by the winds and waves, a beach cleanup helps to keep our beaches clean. It also sets a standard as to how we should maintain our beaches as a collective. If we all put in the effort, we can help combat the issue of environmental pollution and degradation. You can find more information on JEAN and their initiatives here.
A Final Note on Recycling in Japan.
As mentioned earlier, Recycling in Japan and disposing of trash can be overwhelming at first but with a little knowledge and practice you will have it down in know time. Good luck and If you have any other questions be sure to check out our other series on Life in Tokyo.
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