Garbage disposal is something you might not think much about, but in Japan it’s quite a project. There are strict fines for improper disposal of certain materials, and instead of big public trash cans you usually have to find one of the specially separated plastic / metal / burnable waste cans next to a convenience store if you have something small to throw away.
Space is at a premium here, and instead of giant dumpsters for the garbage we wind up with at home, my neighbors and I stumble out early in the morning to tuck our little bags of trash under a big plastic net on the corner that’s let down on certain days for specific materials: Glass and dry batteries are Friday, and Wednesday is for plastics, metal cans and folded-and-bound former cardboard boxes. General ‘burnable’ garbage (foodscraps, cellophane wrappers, waste paper etc) is picked up on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Unlike in the US, you can’t just take out your giant bag of garbage the night before (or several nights before) trash day. The net on my street is let down only between 7am and 9am on the day of a pickup. A sign in my apartment building warns that this is because our neighborhood is “sensitive to the pyromaniac” but I suspect it has more to do with the giant crows who still sometimes manage to ways to drag the trash out from under the nets and make a giant mess of it on the street, causing the old woman who lives across from our trash pickup site to rush out with her broom to deal with the mess (and to regularly offer me as the resident foreigner some detailed instruction in Japanese on how to properly tuck the trash under the nets.) Sleeping in on trash day is no joke, especially in this 95-degree heat, as it means your apartment might smell like rancid fish for three days until you’re allowed to remove the offending items to the curb.
Apparently some regions of japan have as many as 44 different categories of trash / recycling disposal, all firmly enforced, with a goal of seriously reducing waste production over the next 30 years.Japan’s obsessive categorization of trash might seem a bit weird to Americans, but according to this fascinating NY Times article, it may be the look of things to come for us as well! There’s some debate about whether all the sorting (which is a fairly recent thing) actually leads these materials to different locations or not, as the country is still working out a large-scale system to deal with all its garbage. Either way, I must say it makes you really aware of how much waste you produce in a day, which is never a bad thing.