Posted by: Kenji Hall on March 25, 2008
Carry your own chopsticks. Carry your groceries in cotton eco-bags. Use public transportation. Ride a bicycle. Recycle.
They can’t be crammed into a catchy slogan, like the one Texas had for fighting litter on the highways (“Don’t Mess With Texas!”). But those are the things Japan will ask consumers to do under its latest plan to reduce trash by more than half in 15 years. The clock for this new policy, approved today by the Cabinet and slated to go into effect next month, has already started ticking: fiscal year 2000 will be the baseline.
To get an idea of what this means, consider how much trash the Japanese threw out in fiscal 2000: 63 million tons. (The figure includes both households and businesses.) By my rough calculation, that’s 1.36 kilograms (3 lbs) of garbage per day for every soul living on the archipelago.
The government wants to cut back to 40% of the total, or 25.3 million tons. That comes to about .54 kg (1.2 lbs) per person per day. By comparison, Americans throw away about 209 million tons of trash, or 1.9 kg (4.2 lbs) per person each day.
Reducing garbage sounds straightforward. There’s probably lots of recyclable stuff that ends up getting chucked. The government wants to encourage people to carry their groceries home in washable cotton bags instead of taking plastic bags at the supermarket, and to use washable chopsticks instead of the giveaways that come with bento lunch boxes (why not do something about all those plastic lunch boxes, too?). And what about those beautifully wrapped items you can see people carrying home from the downtown Tokyo department stores? Those will have to go, too. My own local grocery story sells vegetables individually wrapped in plastic bags or cellophane, not by the kilogram (or pound). Just say no to the excessive wrapping, right? Sort of.
Japan has done a good job of spreading awareness. Tokyo has a model program for a weekly curbside pickup of recyclable plastic and glass bottles and cans. Convenience stores take recyclable PET bottles, and supermarkets collect PET bottles, milk cartons and Styrofoam trays. So do some other big cities in Japan. Laws mandate that everything from TVs and computers to washing machines and even cars get recycled. Public-service TV ads repeat the virtues of the three Rs (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle), and the buzz word on Sunday radio broadcasts is about sustainable living (LOHAS, or Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability).
But the reality is this: Refuse waste only accounts for a tenth of all the garbage produced. The rest is industrial waste. Japan’s problem will be figuring out how to get businesses to pitch in. That’s where this effort will count the most.