Story and Photos by RACHNA NATH When you think of waste management, what springs to mind? Large rubbish trucks carting garbage for disposal? Perhaps recycling of kitchen refuse or maybe images of huge waste treatment plants and landfills brimming with all kinds of gross trash. Whatever your idea of waste management, chances are it’s not the elaborate and effective model the Japanese have devised. In Japan, waste management is really a way of life. It’s not about just discarding rubbish into recycle bins but a lifestyle of reducing, reusing and recycling just about anything. The concept of ‘zero-waste’ lies at the heart of this notion of waste management. All it takes is a stroll in Tokyo to realise there aren’t many rubbish bins along the streets. You’d be forgiven for thinking that trash there simply doesn’t exist, given the impeccably clean roadsides. It all seems very futuristic. When you do sight a trash can, it’s not just one but several, leaving you to figure out just which bin your litter goes into. Japan is kept immaculately clean and its people super keen on recycling. Everyone, from the youngest to the most elderly have bought into the system. It doesn’t just happen, it’s a community effort that starts in the household. Every home is literally responsible for their household garbage – and it can become a complicated process. Every piece of litter has to be sorted and basically cleaned and householders must make sure they take out the correct rubbish on the day. One of Japan’s leading municipalities has refined the process to become a shining example of an effective zero waste model. Residents at the Kawasaki City are tasked with meticulously sorting their rubbish every day. Mondays are for glass bottles and cans, Wednesday and Saturdays for kitchen waste, Tuesdays for plastic and Fridays for paper waste. Once sorted, residents are expected to put the rubbish in specific transparent bags and take them to rubbish collection points around their neighbourhood. These garbage bag sites have no foul smell because the rubbish is taken out on the in the morning of collection and cleared by the municipality within a few hours. Doing these rubbish tasks may seem inconvenient and complicated, but it’s not impossible. The attitude to support the system is instilled from a very young age. Children are taught the importance of proper waste disposal, a bottom up approach that is largely why Japan’s impressive waste management system works. Literally everything collected by the municipality is recycled in a system that involves the private sector. At a collection facility the municipality again hand sorts the rubbish into plastics and paper, bails it up and sends it to a recycling factory. Mr Yasuyuki Ito, the municipality’s recycling chief said that i n the 1990s, Kawasaki City recognised there would be no space for any more landfill in the near future. “That gave a strong sense of crisis to the citizens so at that time so the city promoted the awareness of the importance of recycling, especially amongst young ones in elementary school.” It wasn’t just Kawasaki City that had to deal with this crisis. All of Japan actually had to deal with this dilemma first brought to light in the early 1960s. If mass production and consumption continued in an upward trend, Japan would literally have a tonne-load of problems on their hands. Policy makers had to find a feasible solution for its garbage or sink under its weight. According to statistics by Waste Atlas, a single Japanese person produces an ‘average of 356.2kg of waste per year.