Japan Zero Waste Town: This Inspiring Community Shows Us How

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Japan Zero Waste Town: Imagine living in a place where there was zero waste? Where all your neighbors were expert recyclers? What if I told you this place actually exists. Kamikatsu is Japan’s Zero Waste Town – this community does exactly this and is doing the rounds on Facebook to bring awareness that zero waste is not just a theory, it can be a reality. Their ultimate goal is to become the county’s first zero waste community by the year 2020.

The town used to use open incineration to get rid of all its rubbish.  But after seeing the environmental and health impacts of this, it was time for the With a current population of approximately 2000 people, it may seem an easy task to implement a zero waste policy, but the level of detail these villagers go to in order to decrease their waste impact is amazing.

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There is a staggering 34 categories of trash at the town recycling centre

Kamikatsu residents sort their trash into a mind-boggling 34 categories – washing out all recyclables before putting them into individual color-coded bins. Kamikatsu also no longer has any garbage collection trucks.

Each villager must take their own rubbish to the central recycling plant in town. Each piece of trash is then considered – can it be reused or recycled? In town, there is a Kuru-kuru (meaning “circular” in Japanese) shop – where residents can exchange reused items for new products.

There is even a factory attached that takes the reused items and employs local women to turn the trash into new things such as clothing, toys, and bags.

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Trash can be exchanged for new goods at the Kuru Kuru shop
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Ladies at the Kuru Kuru shop expertly sew kimonos from recycled fabric

Villagers such as Hatsue Katayama originally found the whole process cumbersome  “It can be a pain, and at first we were opposed to the idea”.

But the town’s leaders were persistent, and continue to motivate residents by putting up signs next to the bins showing how each piece of rubbish may be reused or sold, and how much will be contributed back to the community.

These efforts have paid off as these practices are now a simple habit – As Mrs. Katayama now says “it’s become natural to separate the trash correctly.”

After 13 years, Kamikatsu is now able to recycle 80% of its trash, with the other 20% going into landfill.

The recycling center is run by a local not-for-profit organization called “ Zero Waste Academy”. Many local Japanese schools now send students to the town to learn about recycling. Recycling tourism is a growing industry too – approximately 2500 people came to visit the center by the end of 2014.

How you can create your own zero waste community

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Kamikatsu- Japan’s zero waste town
  1. Define your community -Start thinking about your own community, not in terms of physical borders – but actual people you can influence to take up your zero waste cause. These could be the people you interact with every day – your family, housemates, friends, co-workers and fellow students. A household is a community, but so is a workplace, a school or a sports club.
  2. Find Influencers – Who are the key people who will be able to convince others to join your zero waste community? Is it your boss? Your neighbor? Your school principal? Once you get them on board, you can focus on step 3.
  3. Define the whole process – Think about every step required  to get rid of your rubbish. By breaking down your waste routine, it will be easier to foresee barriers and problems people may face. This is very important, because whilst the change to zero waste management may be hard in the beginning, it should be simple enough to become a regular habit. That’s how the residents of Kamikatsu have managed to come this far.
  4. Experiment – Consider the steps of your new process, and test them out for yourself!  This is the most fun part – but also where you start to see any little problems emerge that you would have never considered.  Will you need more recycling bins for your new trash categories? How will the trash collection deal with all the new bins?  Is there a better way to reuse the rubbish? Too many of these small setbacks may prevent your community from taking on the zero waste challenge long term.
  5. Implement, get regular feedback and improve – Get going with your new waste scheme and get regular feedback from your community. Get them actively involved, keep improving, and give your community regular updates on the difference your new zero waste process has made.
  6. The number one thing to remember if you want to get your community on board with a zero waste goal is to keep asking for feedback. Engaging different people will give you a variety of insights to help you approach challenges throughout the process. Good luck on your zero waste journey!

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2 thoughts on “Japan Zero Waste Town: This Inspiring Community Shows Us How”

  1. It would be interesting to know the 34 categories that they use, and then also what recycling they do to each of those groups. Can one of the Kuru-Kuru shops supply more information as well? Where can we find details of the operations?


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