Trash isn’t easy in Japan. With just over ten percent of a land mass just smaller than California habitable, but over three times its population, Japan needs to be careful about its trash. There just isn’t anywhere to put it. The result is a waste disposal system that can be as frustrating as a chemistry test, in Japanese. How frustrating, I suppose, depends on what you’re used to with your own country’s regulations.
Trash is separated into different species, how many depending on the local government. Every area, every city, has its own unique system. When you arrive in your first apartment you are given a trash pamphlet–it’s really about the size of a poster–entailing proper waste disposal. This will be in Japanese. There are pictures, but it will likely not be a complete list. (I still don’t know which day lightbulbs go out on. Every time I ask someone I get a different answer.)
With so many kinds of trash you have to keep more than one trash bin. And each kind of trash has a different pick up day. Recyclables, and other non-standard pick up days happen only once a month, so you will have to keep them around your apartment.
While I can’t tell you what your trash laws will be if you decide to make the pilgrimage to Japan, I can give you an example using my local laws.
1) Burnable trash is you basic trash. Put food and wrappers and bags in here. Actually, most trash is deposited in the burnable section. Occasionally though, I have a moment of hesitation before tossing something in. “Is this burnable?”
Bah, it’ll burn. Moeru Gomi No Hi (burnable trash day) comes twice a week. Local stores sell yellow trash bags for the moeru gomi, with an assortment of collectable sizes.
2) PET bottles, which means plastic bottles, which must be separated. Rip off the wrapper (it can go in moeru gomi) and rinse out the PET bottle. Then you (should) flatten it as much as possible. I’ve actually never seen anyone actually flatten them except me. I do it because it’s the right thing to do…AND it takes much less space in my tiny PET bottle box. I go through a lot of PET bottles because I love soda.
PET bottle No Hi (plastic bottle day) comes once a month, so if you burn through a lot of soda like me, you might want to find a separate place to keep your PET bottles. These go in blue bags. And the caps come off. You have to put them out in a smaller, separate bag along with the PET bottles.
3) Donboru (cardboard.) If it’s just a tiny piece then most people put it in burnable trash, but if you get a care package from home you’ll want to put the box out with the rest of your cardboard. To do this you are suppose to stack up your cardboard and tie a string around it. Some people just open one box and put the rest inside. This is bad form, but I’ve never seen the garbage man not take it away. So if you’re low on string, it’s an option.
Donboru day coincides with paper day, so you can do the same for your news or office papers that you keep stacked in the corner. (Because your so environmentally friendly.) Donboru No Hi also comes once a month.
4) Bin means glass. Bin No Hi comes once a month as well, and it’s the day you put out all your glass bottles. Don’t put these in bags, or the trash men will slap a big red DA-ME (no good) sticker on them.
5) Metal cans must be flattened and separated. Metal can day, as you can guess, comes once a month. So if you drink a lot, you’ll probably want to get one of those big blue bags for these. Metal cans also go in the blue bags.
But if you buy a special sticker you can put them in any clear bag as long as you put the sticker on it. If you don’t, it’s DA-ME.
6) For random stuff like old chairs, TV’s, or appliances, there’s Sodai gomi no hi. Just set these outside. But not if they’re too big or they won’t get picked up. How big? You’ll have to call waste disposal services to find out, in Japanese.
7) There’s a day for futons and makura (pillows) too. Once a month!
8) And dates change every month. They are decided based off days of the week, so Bin no hi, for example, might come on the third Thursday of the month.
I have three trash cans, and that’s not enough. I’m just too lazy to buy another one. My third trash can is that wicker box, which I use it for PET bottles. And you saw my cap collection, along with the giant lightbulb. It’s there because, like I said, I honestly have no idea which day to put it out on. I’ve never had to throw one away before and it’s not on the pamphlet.
Trash in Japan is a pain, but in order to prevent the country from becoming a giant landfill, they’ve got to do it. It might be extra work, but if every country paid this much attention to trash, maybe the world would be a cleaner place.