Rubbish rules

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 12:00am

Despite its apparently wasteful consumption, Japan may be a pioneer in Asia in household waste recycling. Following new rubbish segregation rules, people are quickly developing a new consciousness. I am one of them.

Since February, residents in Chofu, a western suburb of Tokyo where I live, have been required to separate their rubbish even more meticulously. It's not as if things were simple before. We had to split our waste into flammable and inflammable items for collectors who come on different days of each week. Cans, glass bottles, plastic soft-drink bottles, old clothes and stacks of old newspapers are collected on different days, while batteries, fluorescent bulbs and mercury thermometers are delivered to toxic waste stations. Milk cartons, once washed and dried, go to special recycling stations.

But if this were not enough, we now have to further separate plastic and paper into recyclable and non-recyclable items. (For paper, the guidelines say anything 'bigger than business cards' should be recycled). The new rules mean local government can recycle waste more efficiently, reduce landfill space requirements and cut fuel consumption at incinerators. Collection days are now fixed for each category and I have to check my 'rubbish collection calendar' provided by the city.

On the morning of the first new collection, bags of separated rubbish were neatly piled in the front porch of every house in my neighbourhood. The Japanese mindset is clearly structured to comply with regulations. 'It is certainly wearying to separate rubbish so meticulously, but there is no choice once the rules are set,' said one silver-haired woman, who does not see herself as a part of the lifestyle of mass consumption that creates so much waste.

Japanese produce 52 million tonnes of household rubbish every year, a figure which has not changed much in the past 10 years. Now, local towns are promoting recycling. Many oblige residents to separate rubbish into up to 14 categories. Hekinan city, in southern Aichi prefecture - which claims to be Japan's model 'eco-city' - has 32 categories.

These meticulous rules are helping to develop a new consciousness. My family now takes cotton bags to carry the groceries, tries to reuse things to reduce rubbish, and hence fees. (From next month, we will have to pay for different coloured bags for different rubbish).

Most of all, you become happy in the knowledge that you are contributing to improving the environment. This is something which can be shared by other Asians, whose consumption and waste production are rising.