JAPAN: Overhaul of recycling law adds re-use into the equation

Changes to Japanese recycling legislation are set to hasten the growth in Japan of markets for second-hand and refurbished goods in a society that until recently has shunned these products.

The country’s Revised Recycling Law, announced late in 1999, signals a dramatic expansion from a focus solely on recycling, with the new law proposing the development of a much broader approach encompassing waste minimisation and product re-use.

The new legislative provisions represent an evolution in legislative approaches to waste management that begin in 1993 with the commencement of the Basic Environmental Law, Japan’s framework environmental legislation. One of the three fundamental themes of the Basic Environmental Law was the creation of a recycling-orientated society (the other two themes were “striving for sustainable development” and “the global environment”). However, the law was subsequently criticised as being long on theory and grand words, but short on details and obligations requiring anyone to do anything.

Environmental lawmakers in Japan have since been filling in these details, albeit slowly. The Basic Recycling Law, enacted in 1993 as part of the Basic Environmental Law, contains two main clauses. One clause requires waste generators to make more use of recycled materials, expand markets for recycled products, and design products for easy recycling with the other setting targets and strategies for the recycling of key waste streams, including packaging, automobiles, nickel-cadmium batteries, construction waste and large electronics items.

Japan has since enacted laws under the Basic Recycling Law dealing with packaging (1995) and electronics products (1997), both of which are now being implemented.

The Revised Recycling Law contains general guidelines as to how the rates of reduction and re-use for both industrial waste and general waste can be increased. (In Japan, ‘general waste’ refers to domestic and most forms of commercial waste.)

The Revised Recycling Law aims to increase re-use of parts and products for automobiles, personal computers, photocopiers, vending machines and furniture. With regard to industrial waste, the government is targeting steel scrap waste, asphalt, concrete, timber and other forms of construction waste. Previous government guidance had simply mentioned targets for recycling.

Japan’s Dioxin Special Law 1999 includes numerical targets for reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and incinerators. Although not part of the Revised Recycling Law, and not legally enforceable, these are likely be regarded as informal targets for the purposes the Revised Recycling Law. The targets set out in the Dioxin Special Law are as follows:

  • for industrial waste, limit the increase in waste generation to 13% on 2000 levels by 2010, increase the recycling rate from 42% to 48%, reduce the amount of waste being incinerated by 22%, and halve the amount of waste going to landfill
  • for general waste (that is, municipal waste), halve the amount of waste going to landfills by 2010 compared to 2000 levels through a 5% overall decrease in waste volumes and by increasing the percentage of waste recycled from 10% to 24%

To achieve targets such as these, Japanese consumers and industry will have to engage in far more re-use and waste minimisation than they do now. It is also likely that several existing and planned future laws will have re-use and reduction clauses built into them. These include the existing Packaging Recycling Law and Electronics Recycling Law, as well as future legislation regarding construction waste, automotive waste and industrial waste.

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