Japan’s innovative recycling and energy conservation takes “green” to a whole new level

Hello Glendale Community College! Hope you had a great summer and are ready for Fall 2011. I wanted to start the school year off with a great news item about recycling and energy use in Japan.

Kyoto City officials reported that Kyoto’s garbage has been reduced by 40 percent over the last 10 years to a current level of 498,000 metric tons (Kyoto Shimbun newspaper, July 9, 2011).

The last time they had less than 500,000 metric tons of garbage was in 1977! How did they do it? People pay directly for the disposal of their own waste: based on amount and type – recyclables are half the cost of garbage (by volume) when picked up by the city.

In 2006 the city implemented a prepaid garbage bag program. They added a prepaid recyclables bag in 2007. Both types of bags are readily available in convenience stores and grocery stores. The bags come in sizes of 5, 10, 20, 30 and 45 liters. Garbage bags cost one yen per liter – about one cent per quart, whereas the recyclables bags cost 1/2 yen per liter – about one half cent per quart. The bags are transparent, such that garbage inside a bag of recyclables can be easily identified; a contaminated bag will not be picked up. Moreover, the bags are deposited in designated areas and monitored by the residents. If someone puts out the wrong materials in the wrong bag, the rest of the neighborhood knows about it.

Packages of the largest size (45 liters) of prepaid garbage bags and recyclables bags. Ten yellow garbage bags cost 450 yen (one yen per liter). Five recyclables bags cost 110 yen (0.49 yen per liter). Recyclables bags are fully transparent. If contaminated with garbage, recyclables bags will be left in the street.

A store display of prepaid garbage bags and recyclables bags in various sizes.

Where I live, there is about one deposit location for every 7-8 houses. Our neighbor watches our bags and places a large net over the bags to protect them from birds. Items for the recyclables include all types of plastics, as well as glass and metal, cans and jars. However, the glass, metal and plastic bottles must be placed in a separate bag from other types of plastic recyclables, and they are picked up on different days of the week (Friday and Wednesday, respectively). Aluminum cans may be placed with the other bottles on Friday, but most people put them out in a separate, plain bag for local entrepreneurs that come by early Friday morning on their bikes. Each household can save money by reducing their garbage in general, and recycling as much as possible. Alternatively, if you make a lot of garbage, you must pay for its disposal.

Garbage day, August 4, 2011. The sign on the pole indicates the location to drop off your garbage (Mondays & Thursdays). Our house is left of the pole. Our neighbor (house right of the pole) coordinates garbage pickups. He places a net over the garbage to protect it from birds.

The sign says, ‘Be sure to place your bag under the net. The city provides this net for free. They are paid for by money from the prepaid garbage bag program. City of Kyoto.’

A full prepaid garbage bag under the net, ready for pickup.

The prepaid garbage program was expanded to apartments in 2008. In January of this year (2011) restaurants and other businesses also had to separate their garbage, which has saved an additional 14,000 tons of garbage in the first six months. Kyoto stopped accepting industrial waste in 2009. Businesses now pay directly for disposal of these wastes via private companies.

Paying for your own waste disposal is well supported by the citizens of Kyoto. It is fair to pay for your own waste disposal, and the prepaid, transparent bags make it easily enforceable – a good model for a better Kyoto and a better Glendale in Arizona!

Recycling at GCC has been an incredible success over the last three years. I am looking forward to more GCC recycling news for Fall 2011 semester!

* In 2000, Kyoto disposed of 815,000 metric tons of garbage.


And speaking of green….

Japan has been actively reducing their carbon footprint ever since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. They have accomplished this reduction in carbon output through changes in business and home cultures, as well as an increasing reliance on nuclear power. The earthquake, tsunami and subsequent reactor failures of March 11, 2011 changed much of this equation. First, there has been a substantial loss of electricity generated in the northern half of Honshu (Japan’s main island) that effects Tokyo and many industrial centers. Second, concerns over the safety of nuclear power have led to the prolonged shutdown of other reactors throughout Japan. Currently, energy generation is about 85 percent of last year’s capacity (that percent varies by region).

To limit the potential for power failure, businesses and residences have been asked to further reduce their energy use this year by 15 percent, particularly during the heat of summer. Various energy–saving measures have been adopted by businesses, including an earlier workday (to avoid air-conditioning costs in the hot afternoons), working on weekends (when power demand is lower) and simply lowering production. Individuals are also making efforts to lower their own energy usage.

Importantly, the government has called for air-conditioners to be set no lower than 28oC (82.4oF). To make this temperature more bearable, the government also promoted ‘cool biz’ business wear – no ties, aloha-type shirts, cool dresses and skirts – rather than the typical black suit with tie. So far this summer, there have been no reports of power failures.

We do not have central air-conditioning where I live. The temperatures rarely get above 35oC (95oF), but it is very humid. I now understand the value of Glendale, Arizona’s famous ‘dry heat’. We use four different fans and move them around the house as needed. We also keep the windows open (fortunately breezy), try to eat cold foods and avoid turning on lights (heat).

Glendale Community College in Arizona is currently developing a plan to become a carbon neutral campus. How can we reduce our energy usage 15 percent this year?

(Figures and government initiatives taken from several sources, both TV and newspaper, this summer.)


6 thoughts on “Japan’s innovative recycling and energy conservation takes “green” to a whole new level

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  5. This is a fantastic idea! The waste disposal program in Kyoto ties the cost of waste to those producing the waste and provides an incentive to reduce waste. The program also has a cascade effect that reduces land devoted to waste, less waste going into the oceans, and less production (lower emissions). Privatizing waste disposal also should reduce the tax burden. It’s a very simple and elegant plan. This shows that the solutions are right under our nose, we just need the will.

  6. These are all brilliant methods working together to reduce waste and carbon emissions! I wonder what could be done here in King County to renegotiate the way we handle our own waste products.

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