Yes, that’s right. I’m writing about trash. Rubbish. Garbage. It is in fact a complex topic for residents of Japan who want to sort their rubbish properly. Japan is a densely populated country with not much in the way of natural resources and extra space, but very much into consumption, so waste management is very important. There seems to be a pretty good civic effort into sorting trash for recycling and disposal, and naturally, there are many rules and procedures.

I picked up a handily bilingual city garbage guide so that I could do it properly. (Yes, there are cute characters to make it more fun.) As you can see, we are required to separate our trash by type at home, and since we live in an apartment complex, there are different sections in the trash collection area for our building where we can dump each type.

2016-05-10 21_16_24-Program Manager

If I get confused, I can also consult the garbage separation Mictionary

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It’s often difficult to find public trash bins. The most likely thing to find is bins for recycling bottles and cans near vending machines, but otherwise, public trash cans tend to be scarce. I’m not sure why this is (and frankly, I’m too lazy to look into it further, sorry). I’ve heard a theory that fewer public trash cans actually leads to less litter, while another possible explanation I’ve heard is that there is a fear of bombs in trash cans in public places. Anyway, when you do find them, there are separate bins for different types of trash. Below is the trash and recycling area at a university. (The flame sign is for burnable garbage as opposed to recycling.)


This wouldn’t be a proper post about trash collection in Japan if I didn’t mention that garbage trucks play music as they’re collecting. On hearing music in streets, I’ve asked Y more than once, oh, is that an ice cream truck? And of course he says, no, that’s a trash truck. Some tunes include When You Wish Upon a Star and Auld Lang Syne.

As for recycling: I probably need to write another post about plastic more specifically. Despite such earnest efforts at recycling, Japan is addicted to plastic packaging. So many bags, wrappers, food packs, etc. etc.! It’s interesting that it’s common to buy bottles of liquids like spray cleaners, shampoo, hand soap, etc. only once, and then buy refill bags for the same bottle that have much less packaging. However, sales clerks tend to be lightning fast with their bagging that often I can’t explain that I don’t need a plastic bag in time to stop them. I once bought a rice ball (onigiri) and drink at a convenience store and ended up with each item in a separate bag. Much of the produce in grocery stores is in plastic as well. Anyway, I’m getting carried away–will need another post.

To close, here is a recording of a truck driving around inviting people to bring out electronics, furniture, etc. that they no longer need. There are periodic collections of household rubbish by the city, but I think this is a private entity that will recycle or resell the stuff for profit. You often hear voices like this calling out in the streets, and it sounds rather eerie to me! (Sorry about the video…I just wanted to record the audio and can’t be bothered to do anything else with it! Or maybe it’s artistic or something.)


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