December 23, 2018 Sun
Yosano Waste Recycling Plant

Although respect for the natural environment may be an often-touted tenet of Japaneseness, the country has a big problem with waste. In some ways, this is inevitable for a country of over 120 million people crammed into a mountainous are the size of California. Sensing an impending crisis, in 2001 the government enacted the Household Appliance Recycling Law, which charges consumers for disposing their white goods. For a manageable fee, manufacturers and retailers have to recycle used goods (which also has the added benefit of ensuring that manufactures make easily-recyclable products). Despite some early concerns, and a problem with illegal waste disposal, Japan now recycles 98% of metals, and the system has helped reduce the country’s waste burden. Given its lack of natural resources, Japan hopes to create a closed-loop economy, re-using recycled materials in the manufacturing of new products. Yet despite the success with recycling large, white goods, and the reduction in landfill use to 5% of waste, recycling in the country remains a mixed bag; while citizens obediently follow waste disposal guidelines, this does not necessarily mean that waste actually ends up being recycled. Overall, Japan only recycles around 20% of its household waste, which does not compare well with other densely populated industrialized nations such as the Netherlands or Germany. With China currently banning the import of plastic for recycling (Japan used to export large amounts of plastic to China), the country is once again having to think of innovative ways to deal with its waste problem.

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