The average, modern city produces thousands of tons of ‘garbage’ every year, and much of it ends up in landfills, burned, thus polluting the air, or worse, in the oceans, damaging precious marine life. All three of these waste disposal methods harm the ecosystem, and spit in the face of Mother Nature. Though we have prevented 87.2 million tons of waste from negatively impacting the environment from recycling and composting in recent years, there is one Japanese town that is taking the ZERO waste concept to an entirely new level.
The town of 1700 residents, Kamikatsu, is likely to become the first zero waste city in Japan, championing the practices of reduce, reuse, and recycle in a way that most cities cannot yet fathom, but should. If it seems an impossible task, it isn’t, but zero waste does take a profoundly different attitude and set of actions which every single member of the town participates in. Here’s how they do it:
• Recyclables are separated into 34 different bins. That means that not only is paper, and plastic separated out for reuse – or recycle, but so are old cell phones and electronics, food containers, and even recyclable metals like iron, tin, and aluminum. If you think separating trash for one container in your Suburban town in the US is a hassle, then you have a long way to go to meet the dedication of these Japanese citizens.
• Currently only 20 percent of the entire city’s trash is headed for a landfill, with the aim to make it zero by 2020. In previous times, the Japanese simply burned their refuse, further polluting the environment, so this is a huge improvement in waste management, and honoring all life in the ecosystem.
• Citizens bring their refuse that has already been sorted to recycling centers, the city does not do it for them. Talk about taking responsibility for a better planet! Instead of waiting for the mayor or some other city official to approve a bill for recycling, they just do it themselves. A documentary by Seeker Stories interviews a resident who says, “If you get used to it, it becomes normal. Now I don’t think about it. It’s become natural to separate the trash correctly.”
• The town has a factory that finds ways to repurpose items which have been discarded or are no longer useful in their current form. New clothing is made from old material, and gifts are made from items that would have ended up in the trash bin.
• The town also has a ‘circular’ which could be compared to sections of Craig’s List where people are encouraged to list items to trade or give to others, when they are no longer in use.
Zwia.org, or the International Zero Waste Alliance has more ideas about how you can reduce the trash you create. Even businesses are trying to find more ways to recycle or repurpose non-toxic items so that they are not incinerated, sent to landfills, or put into the environment.
If this small Japanese town can do it, then we can all imagine an industrial system in which nothing ever really ‘dies’ or gets discarded. The highly “unnatural” processes of chemical engineering, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and disposal would all aspire to a state of nature, where anything and everything is a renewable resource. The familiar “reduce, reuse, recycle” would apply not just to products at the end of their life span, but to the materials and methods that created them throughout their cycle of use. This is a dream for sustainability we can make a reality.