Have you also noticed that there is virtually no garbage, litter or rubbish on the streets in Japan? Have you also noticed that there are very few trash bins in Japan, anywhere? Have you ever wondered why?
Have you ever noticed that Japan actually is one of the countries that is really into overpackaging as every little thing must be displayed beautifully and then wrapped beautifully?
I certainly have and having been here many times, am still getting my head around how it, so you are not alone in finding recycling in Japan, confusing.
Where did this recycling start in Japan?
In essence, it has been from sheer necessity as Japan is a very small island that is very densely populated. Land is precious and needs to be conserved for better than things than tip sites or landfill sites. It may well have been during World War 11 when things were tight that people realized that they needed to be resourceful, and resourceful they are. The 2nd airport in Tokyo, Haneda Airport is built on an artificial island made of garbage. The first law regarding recycling however was not passed until the mid 1990s.
Known as bunbetsu, the separation of rubbish when recycling, this is one of the first things that children at school learn about and that all Japanese do know about this, and strictly adhere to.
There is also a Japanese saying that you don’t want to hear, called Mottai nai that means wasteful. This is said if you dump rubbish in the streets or anywhere else. You will find it difficult to find rubbish bins in the street, and it took a while of investigation to determine that the Japanese people take their rubbish with them. Pure and simple. Take your rubbish with you and when you find a set of recycling bins, divide your rubbish appropriately.
Have a look at the image below that I have just taken in the kitchen in the lodge where we are staying in at Nozawa Onsen, Japan. You will quickly see that there is a bin for every situation that might occur. Knowing which one to put things in, however, is confusing as there are some fine lines. However, as the Japanese are very proud of their ability to recycle so well, it is not hard to find someone to help you out of your dilemma. It is also a great way to meet local people who see that your are trying and will chat with you.
Why are there few garbage bins in Japan, particularly Tokyo
There are 3 schools of thought about this.
1. The bombings and terror attacks in the past
2. The recycling is so thorough
and 3. which seems the most plausible. The Japanese do not like to eat when they walk. Simple. They prefer to sit down and enjoy a meal. Therefore they don’t need the bins.
How to recycle in Japan
At home in Australia, we divide paper, bottles, and green waste. Here in Japan, there are nine ways to divide up everything.
Pet bottles – no labels, no lids
Bottle caps, labels, plastic bag and wrappings
Dirty tissues, tea bags, scrappy pieces of paper, etc.
Cans – rinsed and crushed
Colored glass – no caps
Clear glass – no caps
Milk cartons – rinsed and then cut up in the correct way.
The 9th method doesn’t affect us as the guest, but it does the residents and relates to appliances.
Obligations of Japanese to Recycle
Most people see it as their civic duty and just do it without thinking. Businesses have to pay, based on weight and volume for all of their recyclables to be collected. It is in their best interests to make sure that everything complies.
Consequences of not Recycling in Japan
Other than the humiliation of having Mottai nai said to you, the Japanese have what amounts to a Name and Shame system for businesses and the general public. If you don’t get their recycling sorted correctly. then you will get The red sticker of shame. If you put the wrong thing in the wrong ‘clear’ bag, you may find your rubbish left on the side walks with the red sticker. This will have an explanation as to why you have ‘failed’, and this is for all to see. The Japanese do not like to be shamed at all.
A bit of Hypocrisy
Japan would be the nation that is so into packaging things so beautifully that it creates a lot of potential waste. Not only is everything that you but beautifully wrapped but then it is wrapped again for you to take away. However, I guess if you want beauty, and no one can deny that the Japanese are the masters of this amazing gift wrapping, then they have to be united to keep the recycling down and to come up with creative ways to re-use these materials. Clothing companies are using goods, obviously an airport was established on one, and there are other innovative ideas occurring.
I think that the Japanese offensive in recycling is to be applauded, though they do not consider that they have the problem totally sorted, particularly that E-waste recycling is still falling short
It seems it doesn’t take long to have an entire nation doing the right thing. It is also a pleasure that wherever you look or walk is clean ..so very clean.
Thanks for sharing this. I’m always looking at sustainability measures in other countries!
The people in Japan take recycling very seriously.
If only all countries could take recycling to the same levels!! Some parts of the world have a lot of catching up to do. As for eating and walking – Is it actually really in anyone’s culture to walk and eat?
I agree that it is a model worth adopting globally, if possible. I don’t agree with walking and eating but many people in many countries do.
What a great philosophy!
I wish we recycled more in my country, we definitely produce too much rubbish!
It is a way to keep what could be a massive problem, under control.
I think it is great that they put so much effort into recycling and that they start with school children. If more countries were like that we’d live in a much better world.
I definitely agree, it is so important what is being done.
Interesting! Lol red sticker of shame. I think more places should follow suit.
I agree, rubbish shame is not a good thing.
Such an interesting post. I think it’s very interesting about the culture of not walking and eating, considering that much of Asia has a vibrant street food culture.
I don’t think that Japan considers themselves a part of Asia, but that is just my opinion. So yes, it is different. In saying that, we have walked through the snow eating beautiful steamed buns in Nqzawa Onsen, so it varies a little.
How fascinating Paula. I have a friend who is Korean educated in japan and half of the effort of the gifts he gives me is the wrapping and packaging. He will never get me a gift that is not properly and beautifully presented and now, it all makes so much more sense. I thought it was just him being neat. Japanese culture is just so different it is an explosion to the senses to visit
Agreed Mar, making things beautiful is very important but so is the efficiency in the wrapping process. Note that it is one piece of beautiful paper and maybe just one piece of tape. It is about the folding of the paper and the textures. I love learning about Japanese culture, and agree it is an explosion to our senses.
Really an eye opening aspect of Japanese way of life.
ANd this should be followed in every part of world which will address many prevelant issues.
Thansk for this informative post.
Thanks, we think that the Japanese approach to recycling should be adopted throughout the world also.
Great story, I’ve never read anything about recycling in Japan before. We actually plan to go there within the next couple of years (saving up!) so I’ll definitely bookmark your blog to re-read when the time has come to go.
Thanks and you will find that everything is clean and people take their rubbish with them. Enjoy one of our favourite countries.
Amazingly efficient and such a good idea. Here in the UK we are generally on the ‘three bin refuse’ system, although we do have separate public hoppers for recycling clothes and shoes. We are just beginning to have those big bins in supermarkets to put your packaging in before you go home – which I remember from germany at least fifteen years ago.
I think that a lot of the world is trying to make a more concerted effort to recycling, though I often wonder is it more we domestic users and not the big industrials, where an impact would be more significant.
Japan has recycling it down to a fine art. I think its wonderful that it starts for the children in school and is carried out religiously at home. I was amazed how beautifully clean the cities and countryside is in Japan. The no rubbish bins took a bit of getting used to, but what a great idea to take your rubbish home.I wish it could be instilled in our society from a young age. Germany is another country that is clean and green, and no litter.
I think that it also a wonderful thing and it does come naturally to the Japanese, and now that you mention it, Germany was also very clean. It is not that hard to do and something that we all can easily do.
Interesting post. I was snobbishly horrified at how dirty Halong Bay was in Vietnam. Tour guides gave us a mix of reasons – locals don’t care, storms have caused the rubbish to appear on the beach. Disappointing considering how cool the surroundings are!
I adore Halong Bay but yes it seems to be a problem in many places. We are in Bali at the moment and Kuta Beach is not a good look, but similarly this has come from tides etc and the locals do care. Post coming out soon in defense of Kuta
where do you buy your future rubbish?!? At supermarkets, shops and convinience stores, correct?!? So take your rubbish back there … did you notice the recycling station/bins outside supermarkets etc…in Japan? Smart idea, isn’t it?!?
That is true. Most vending machines particularly will have the recycling bins near to them. However, find bins generally is not at all easy.
So fascinating Paula and it seems consistent with the great ironic country that is Japan. My wife taught English there for a year some decade ago so even though I didn’t visit I have a glimpse into their culture. The shaming thing is huge there; here in New Jersey we’d laugh at the red sticker but in a place like Japan, saving face is SO huge. I learned this after living for 18 months in Thailand, a bit different than Japan of course but saving face is equally as important and shaming is about the worst thing you can do to something, outside of killing them LOL!
Neat read, thanks so much for sharing with us 😉
Thanks Ryan and you are totally correct. Saving face is so very important to the Japanese and it works in making sure that they all do comply and they do. The country is immaculately clean.
One of the hardest things to get used to in Japan is the unspoken rule about no walking around eating. If the lack of public trash bins isn’t enough of a clue, some ice cream cone vendors will recognize you as a gai jin (foreigner) and order you, in no uncertain terms, to stand there and eat it.
I actually agree about not walking and eating, so it worked for me well. I can see however that it would be a cultural shift for others.
I didn’t really noticed how difficult and confusing recycling can be in Japan during my time there, I’m not surprised to hear about the ‘red sticker of shame’ though, I was actually quite expecting something like that from the very little I learnt about Japanese culture.
I think that you get used to a good idea, where things need to be sorted and recycled. It just takes some time. The Japanese dread the public humiliation of the red sticker of shame.