With a population of over 126 million, Japan is a country with a high rate of plastic waste; and a reputation as the king of over-packaging that precedes it. However, after committing to the Kyoto Protocol in 1995 and voting for the Basic Act on Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society in 2000, the country has developed a desire to reduce its plastic waste and carbon emissions. Numerous green initiatives have emerged: changes in the way of life; more advanced recycling methods; technological innovations.
Japan, the country of recycling.
43 million pieces of plastic waste in 2016. That’s a figure that might terrify some countries wishing to deal with environmental problems. However, in 2 years, Japan has recycled 1/5th of its plastic waste. A great performance that is not likely to stop there. Some cities recycle much more; like Kamikatsu which recycles nearly 80% of its waste and with a zero waste objective for 2020.
How could the Japanese help their country to recycle its waste?
The question is obviously very interesting for countries wishing to do more on recycling. Many systems have been put in place. You have to know that Japan is the cleanest country in the world. You will find almost no garbage in the streets of Kyoto. So you have to keep your waste until you find one, or not produce any waste at all.
In the public places, the garbage cans are made for selective waste collection. It is important to sort your waste in a specific way. There are three categories of waste: combustible, incombustible and recyclable. Followed by sub-categories, to improve the sorting of recyclable waste. You can find more than a dozen garbage cans dedicated to selective sorting.
You can also find sorting garbage cans in Japanese restaurants or fast-food restaurants.
A method pushed to the extreme allowing a better recycling of raw materials; and an additional effort for the inhabitants who risk a fine for not respecting the selective sorting.
More original ways to make Japanese people aware of waste sorting exist.
- In Kyoto, you can find anti-waste samurais. A way to make the cleaning of the streets attractive and to make people think about the abandonment of waste in the nature.
- The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper uses a recycled paper made of water and seeds to read the news and plant flowers after reading. Once a Japanese wants to throw away his newspaper, he just has to plant it in wet soil and it grows into a flower. A nice way to turn information into plants.
On the other hand, if you cannot throw away some objects, it is also possible to give them away or to repair them. The kintsugi technique allows to repair broken objects. The goal: to sublimate objects rather than throwing them away or hiding them. (Showzi Tsukamoto).
Zero waste inspirations around the world.
Many people have discovered tawashi or furoshiki recently. They owe these zero waste practices to Japan. Tawashi is a Japanese sponge made from used fabric; furoshiki is a method of wrapping with a colored fabric to wrap food, gifts, make a bag… .
But there are still many traditional Japanese ecological packaging.
- Warazaiku : strong, flexible and insulating, rice straw can be used to create dolls, objects but also to wrap food.
- Bamboo : used as a leaf (chimaki) or as a sheath (takekawa) is ideal to protect food during transportation.
Japan typical minimalism
For many Japanese people, following and living like the ancient traditions is paramount. This is where minimalism comes from. Live simply and keep only the necessary. No television, the furniture and utensils necessary to live, some clothes but nothing superfluous… .
This is a new way of living inspired by wabi-sabi: “wabi means to be satisfied with a small hut, a room with two or three tatami mats… with a bowl of vegetables harvested in the fields next door, and maybe listening to the sound of a soft spring rain.”
This way of living in order to be in harmony with oneself also allows one to drastically reduce all of one’s belongings; and thus reduce one’s waste. A way to make yourself more ecological.
Although the road to a green transition is difficult, Japan has a lot of resources both in traditional practices and in the systems put in place to succeed. Once the problem of over-packaging is solved, Japan may well be one of the most environmentally friendly countries!