August 20, 2019 Tue
Yosano’s coloured rubbish bags

Walk along any Japanese street, or look at the Japanese countryside, and the cleanliness of the country is striking. The plastic bags or cigarette butts that litter the landscape in other countries simply cannot be found. Endless books have been written about the ties between Japanese culture and the natural environment; a respect for the environment, and a focus on collective responsibility for cleanliness, is ingrained from an early age – schools do not have cleaners as students themselves are expected to partake in daily cleaning. This sense of both personal and collective responsibility bleeds into the rubbish disposal system. Any new resident to Japan (especially in rural areas) can attest to the fact that rubbish disposal is complicated, time-consuming and sometimes stressful. In Yosano, rubbish must be separated into a plethora of different categories (each with a corresponding coloured bag): burnable waste, plastics, PET bottles, glass, cans, milk cartons, cardboard, polystyrene, non-burnable waste… the list goes on. Should rubbish be incorrectly sorted, a tag is placed on the bag informing the owner of their mistake (whilst serving as a form of public humiliation). The effort citizens make to correctly sort waste is admirable, especially in comparison to other countries, where there is little push (except through personal initiative) to properly sort household waste. Unfortunately, such conscientiousness masks wider problems with the system. Waste is often not recycled but incinerated; the separate categories ensure that the waste is burnt at the correct temperature. The amount of waste produced is also a problem in itself: consumers prize presentation and newness, leading to vast overpackaging (vegetables invariably come wrapped in plastic) and the discarding of perfectly usable items. (Houses in Japan are often torn down every 30 years; it is rare to see a car over 10 years old.) In the future, waste management in Japan may rely on reforming a highly consumerist culture, as well as increasing the actual recycling rate of materials. Whilst ordinary citizens are often actively engaged in keeping the environment clean, stricter government regulation and well thought-through environmental planning are necessary to create a more sustainable economy.

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