Kamikatsu town is the smallest on Shikoku island, nestled in the mountains outside of Tokushima city. I made the four-plus hour journey as a part of a study-tour to learn more about the town’s ambitious target for Zero waste by 2020. I wanted to find out how the day-to-day logistics of waste and resource management can work. Kamikatsu town’s zero-waste target by 2020 requires collaboration between government officials in the local town office, residents in the community and business owners which is efficiently managed by the Zero Waste Academy NPO team.
Actually, the households in Kamikatsu, don’t have to separate into many more categories that most of us do. But as the town lacks supermarkets or convenience stores, as well as any garbage collection infrastructure, landfills or incinerators a different plan of action is needed. Azuma-san who gave us the tour said their most important job is to change the way that people think of waste as “burnable” is not an option and “everything must go somewhere” after use.
In Hiroshima we sort our trash according to the list below:
- Burnable: *paper, *light-plastics, garden cuttings, kitchen waste
- Landfill: heavy plastics, shoes, ceramics, bedding..
- Recyclable (2/month pick up) : glass, aluminum, metal, batteries, clothing, newspapers, cardboard boxes..
- *Voluntary recycle (supermarkets/convenience stores) : food trays (styrofoam & plastic), milk cartons, pet bottles, drink cans and bottles.
Reduction of waste at home: 100% composting
In Kamikatsu, all homes and offices must compost all of their kitchen waste in their gardens or neighborhood plots. Composting machines are subsidized if residents prefer to use them, otherwise outdoor compost bins, or special composting areas in gardens are recommended.
Garbage sorting facility : 60+ categories
The Zero-waste academy tour takes you around the waste sorting facility which has more than 60 containers for sorting trash. Each bin shows how much the waste material can earn (if it is recyclable) and how much it costs to be taken away for disposal (because it cannot be recycled). For example, cardboard, bottles, cans, clothes and other recyclables can earn money for the facility but plastics and styrofoam have a cost to be taken away.
For some of the money generation materials. community members can use a point card which collects points each time they donate certain items and puts them in a monthly lottery to win local products.
There is also an area to dispose of your used cooking oil which is then re-purposed as biofuel used in local farming equipment. This reuse helps the local economy. Used clothing, curtains and towels can be sold to companies that re-purpose the fabric or donate usable items to charities supporting people in need.
Communication with companies about product design
The Zero-waste NPO works in collaboration with companies in Japan about which products are particularly difficult to reuse or recycle in hopes that changes can be made at the product design stage of development. For example. mixed materials such as hard plastics covered in fabrics and bottles fitted with plastic caps. Since the different elements are too difficult to separate, they are impossible to recycle and usually end up in landfills.
Kuru-Kuru Free “Give & Take” Shop
This is a great easy start up idea for reducing waste in a community. Any useable items are donated to the shop and any residents who want them can take whatever they want. Users simply sign in & sign out any useful things they donate or take, free of charge. There are household items, decorative items and good quality clothing in all sizes and for adults and children. This is a very useful feature for any new residents to the town as start up supplies and clothing for children can be a burden on families.
Kuru-Kuru Craft Shop : Upcycled Goods for sale
The Kuru-Kuru Craft Shop is an extension of this re-use idea which was created to employ locals, reuse beautiful materials in new ways and create quality, upcycled products to help fund these craft operations. Discarded fabrics and materials are re-purposed by local residents at this workshop into new products great for gifts and souvenirs. Colorful coats and bags are made of retired Koi-nobori carp streamers or kimono material are particular favorites. Spending money here helps support the local craftspeople by creating demand for these upcycled projects which creates employment and more diverse sources of income for the locals involved.
A visit to the Kamikatsu garbage sorting facility made me realize how we have normalized our wasteful habits in the name of progress and convenience. We readily consume over-packaged goods that we don’t really need because we can and it is the norm. An in-depth article, by Tim Hornyak of the Japan Times, explains how Japan’s Edo period was resourceful as items were reused and fixed, but in line with other modernized societies worldwide, Japan is now overwhelmed by trash problems. Thinking of the amount of waste generated and resources used everyday by an average person is shocking: 4.3 lbs (1.95 kg) per day as of 2008 according to Duke univ.
We can blame conditioning to act like this by society, company marketing and the government which regards consumerism as an asset to a healthy economy. Regardless of the why, however, there is no doubt now that our personal and local behavior has a lasting effect and comes at a cost to the entire planet. Not only is it mottai-nai to so carelessly toss carefully designed and manufactured goods that are capable of lasting many years, but there is a clear impact on the environment due to depleting resources and stockpiled waste in landfills that will outlast us.
It is the aim of the zero-waste academy tour to help visitors take some of these waste reduction ideas and apply them to our own homes, communities and countries. As Akira Sakano says, “Zero-waste is a journey and a lifestyle, not a destination”.