Zero Waste Japanese Town

Zero Waste Japanese Town
June 1, 2017 Christina Mullin

Touted by many as the world’s “first zero-waste town,” Kamikatsu, the small mountainous town on the island of Shikoku, Japan, has an impressive waste management program from which the rest of the world could learn a lot. It has proved so effective at recycling that the annual number of visitors seeking waste-reduction advice exceeds its population. The town’s rigorous program recycles or composts 80 percent of the waste produced by its 1,700 residents. The remaining 20 percent goes to landfill, although Kamikatsu hopes to eliminate that amount entirely by 2020.

There are no recycling trucks in the town; instead, residents take their recycling to its only garbage collection site, known as “Gomi Station” (garbage station), operated by a town-commissioned nonprofit organization called Zero Waste Academy. Their household waste is then sorted into 34 plastic boxes at the facility that have signs showing the separation categories, such as aluminum cans, steel cans, plastic bottle caps and metal caps. The signs also indicate what the trash will be recycled into, as well as the selling price to dealers.

For example, disposable chopsticks will be recycled into materials for paper, and aluminum cans are sold for JYP155 yen (USD$1.46) a kilogram. Burnable waste that cannot be recycled is handed over to dealers in Tokushima, the prefectural capital, for incineration. Rather than throw away unneeded daily items, residents look for new owners.

Kurukuru Shop, which stands adjacent to the garbage station, offers free second-hand furniture, tableware, stuffed animals and clothes. People from out of town can also take home these goods. About 10 tons of used articles were taken to the shop in fiscal 2014, and about 9.7 tons found new owners. Also, available for purchase are stuffed animals and clothes made of used “koinobori” carp streamers.

Architects Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP won the WAN Sustainable Buildings Award 2016 for designing a building, not only for its cool looks but also for being built completely out of reclaimed materials. The building houses a bar, a brewery, and also living spaces. All of which feature clever displays of reuse, from reclaimed floor tiles to a bottle chandelier, showcasing recycling not as a chore, but rather as a new creative outlet.

Akira Sakano, director of the Zero Waste Academy, is ready to move to the next stage because she believes residents’ endeavors so far have reached a limit. “We don’t want to just separate garbage in a large number of categories, but we also want to reduce the amount produced in the first place,” said Sakano, 27. One way to achieve this, she said, is working with businesses to change conventional methods of packaging on products. She said waste from agricultural supplies can be curbed if recyclable substances replace the commonly used materials of vinyl chloride and rubber. Sakano noted that some outside officials attribute Kamikatsu’s success to its small population, enabling the easy spread of efforts to save the environment.

“All communities can devise their own zero-waste projects by taking into account their circumstances,” Sakano said. “We are ready to share our knowledge as well as the ways and means.”