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The Success Story of Japan’s Waste Recycling System

In Japan, it’s not called waste. It’s called recovered resources or recovered paper! Japan is a recycling-driven society.

Japan strictly follows 3 R’s (reuse, reduce and recycle). The government plays a major role in creating awareness among people to segregate their waste. It has incentive systems and clear policies for a successful recycling system. Anyone who has visited Japan will know how the Japanese people follow these rules meticulously.

Segregation Success

Schools and institutions play a major role in creating awareness among young minds. In general, citizens volunteer to keep the society clean. Municipalities share the segregation and collection guidelines document with every household. Community associations play a major role in collecting waste and transporting it to the municipality for a reward. The main pillar of paper recycling success is their direct delivery rights to sell to wholesalers as well as to export it.

“Japan has taken the responsibility of adopting various measures and policy guidelines for waste management, like its waste management cleansing act and more.”

Households and businesses separate their trash into burnable items (everything from kitchen scraps to plastic bags, paper and clothing), non-burnable items (glass, metal, batteries, crockery and electronics) and recyclables. Typically, burnable garbage is collected twice a week, non-burnable twice a month and recyclable materials, such as PET bottles, glass, newspapers and cardboard, once a week; oversized trash and appliances are handled under a separate system.

Waste Collection in Japan

To reduce total waste ending in landfills, an effective waste disposal system has been put in place. Japan has taken the responsibility of adopting various measures and policy guidelines for waste management, like its waste management cleansing act and more. It also follows the circular economy model where waste is handled by manufacturers in their premises (extended producers’ responsibility). Manufactures also have the responsibility of manufacturing and designing products that are worth collecting and recycling. A specific labeling system has also been put in place for recycling.

Main Reason for Recycling Success Is the Collection System

Waste collection is done in three ways; and to encourage recycling, a lot of subsidies are also provided. To avoid illegal trading of waste, MoU is signed to use GPS in the collection points to track where the waste is being transported.

  1. Drop off or Collection Point: Walk around any neighborhood and you’ll soon come across detailed roadside signs with colorful icons and weekly schedules. Any resident and commercial establishments can volunteer and provide a space outside their premises to set up a collection point. This collection point will be used by the area locals to drop off their segregated waste in the appropriate boxes. Waste is collected by municipalities at timely intervals like three days in a week etc., depending on the volume of waste generated.
  2. Group Collection: Any association or a group of people can set up a collection point, collect waste from residents and transport it to municipalities. Ten or more household can form a group. Business operators like supermarkets are also doing collection. This provides employment to people; they are able to make good profit out of the waste group collection system. Incentives are provided by the corporation to these group collectors. Most of the group collects only paper waste to sell to paper mills at a better rate. This also creates a demand in local recovered paper production, as this collected paper waste is exported to other countries. The group collectors cannot use municipality collection points.
  3. Jbrand: Japan has developed its own recovered paper brand called Jbrand, which is high-grade-quality recovered paper. In general, Japanese waste paper is high grade and has huge export market demand, which has led to the direct selling of group collection to sell to paper mills and not to municipalities for a better rate.
  4. Municipalities: Municipalities collect waste from these collection points; treat them in their decentralized recycling centers. Recyclables get bailed accordingly and sent to respective manufacturers and non-recyclables are incinerated in their small decentralized units or sent to the centralized recycling unit.
The Waste Collection System: Challenges
  1. Reduction of volume of waste for municipalities. Group collectors collect more waste and sell it to manufacturers directly, which ends up with corporation getting less volume of waste.
  2. Segregation of recovered paper from other waste.
  3. In Japan, waste should be segregated into 10-plus different kinds, which often ends up in mixing of garbage
  4. Collection points are at risk because of market value, which leads to stealing and weather conditions
  5. The younger generation does not want to take further group collection business
  6. Shortage of labor in waste collection
  7. Due to market fluctuation, it is difficult to continue with the process
Waste Management in Japan

Waste management happens in three stages: collection, intermediate processing including incineration and pulverization, and landfills. Waste is collected from these collection points by the municipality and taken to be treated at local decentralized recycling centers, which is intermediate processing. Wastes are getting bailed appropriately, categorized and sent to manufacturers to recycle them and use as raw material. Non-recyclables are treated in their decentralized recycling centers or transferred to a centralized largest recycling center. Centralized incineration treats waste in an environment friendly manner, and the residuals are sent to Japan Last Landfill.

Japan follows the circular economy model where waste is handled by manufacturers in their premises (extended producers’ responsibility).

Japan Last Landfill: From Trash to Ash

This landfill turns garbage to land that can be used in future. Incinerated residual ash is disposed in soil with layers scientifically designed to treat the waste. Japan Landfill is no surprise; it looks beautiful and doesn’t look like a landfill.

Interesting Facts

In order to avoid trucks with mudded tires inside the premises, Japan has developed this system where mudded tires are cleaned before entering the premises.

One paper mill has a dog named “Silk”. It has been trained to inspect odor in the recovered paper blocks for effective recycling of paper. n

– This article has been written by Uma Dotc.


About the Author

Sustainability lifestyle promoter with years of experience in creating awareness and setting up sustainability initiatives. Her passion for promoting sustainable lifestyle and waste management influenced her to start a sustainability initiative called “UpcycleIt”.


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