Recycling lessons from Japan

I am the new reporter for edie and will be writing across its water, energy and waste channels to bring you the latest industry news.

So far working for edie has been eventful, to say the least, following flooded train lines and London riots I have certainly been kept busy on the reporting front.

I am fascinated by the environment and at discovering new ways to live more sustainably, and am looking forward to learning more about this to share with you on edie.

I am passionate about saving energy (not just because this helps reduce my bills), but because I feel it is important that we each do our bit, however small. This is why each night I run around my tiny flat switching off all appliances at the plug.

I am equally enthusiastic about recycling, partly because I have experienced the complex recycling systems of Japan, and as I hate to throw away what can be used again. This is why I often find myself eating ancient tins of soup and beans, or slightly dodgy looking vegetables from time to time in a bid to limit my food waste.

On the topic of recycling in Japan, this is something I found slightly peculiar during my two year stint living and working in the country, as recycling and waste seemed to go hand-in-hand.

Japanese recycling laws are taken very seriously in Japan, partly because with a population of roughly 130 million a lot of waste is produced, and because people want to preserve the environment they live in.

On moving into my new Japanese 'aparto' I was greeted with what can only be described as a recycling bible, which through use of colour coding, cartoon pictures and detailed descriptions, explained what goods can be recycled and when.

However, this is not as simple as it sounds, as certain goods could only be recycled on certain days provided they are washed (thoroughly) and put in the correct compartments in the outdoor recycling centre. Failure to do so can land you with a brisk note, the non-collection of your recyclables, a fine, or as in my case, a telling off from the local recycling warden.

While the determination of the Japanese to recycle is commendable, I couldn't help but feel it was slightly counter productive given the excessive amount of packaging used day-to-day. From a three layer wrapped box of tomatoes to cling-filmed melons to individually wrapped, boxed and bagged biscuits I felt a great deal of recycling could be reduced if packaging was also.

Carrier bags were another area where I felt waste could be reduced, as at present in Japan reusing of plastic bags is largely discouraged, and as they can't generally be recycled end up being incinerated or on landfill sites.

There are certainly lessons we can learn from Japan though, as you are unlikely to find a home, office, school or factory that doesn't recycle. If this could only be combined with a bit less packaging then I think Japan could be on to a winning formula.

CarysCarys Matthews

Topics: edie
Tags: food | Food waste | packaging | plastic bags | population | water
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