Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
In Japan, looking for a trash bin can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. There’s a pathetic lack of public trash bins out on the streets. Your best bet is to find a convenience store that are equipped with trash bins (not all convenience stores have them). Train stations are also stocked with trash bins, but they may not be conveniently located within the premises, and finding them can take some time.
Garbage bins usually come in groups of twos or threes. There’s one specifically for combustibles like paper, another one for non-combustibles like plastics, and another one for plastic bottles and drink cans. Yes, you need to separate your trash. Now, Japan is certainly not the only country in the world to have this trash separation system, but combine this with the lack of trash bins around and you’re bound to find this kind of irritating.
If you’re going to be just a short-term tourist in Japan, that’s all to the inconveniences you’d face when it comes to garbage issues. But if you intend to live in this country for an extended period of time, the story doesn’t end here.
Suppose you get a job in Japan, or you’re planning to study here. After a painstakingly tedious process of getting your work or study visa, you’ll need to pass the hurdle of getting accommodation, which typically involves renting an apartment. This particular hurdle can also cause a tremendous headache – so much so that it deserves an article solely dedicated to it.
Once you’ve settled down in your new residence, there are several living issues you need to take care of on a daily basis (again, another pretty high hurdle). One of them is taking out your trash.
Each particular weekday is dedicated to a specific trash category. For example, Monday is dedicated to “clothing”, Tuesday “combustibles”, Wednesday “plastic bottles and drink cans”, Thursday “plastics”, and Friday “combustibles” again.
It is important to know that plastic cap bottles and labels are considered “plastics”. Therefore, on Wednesday, before you dump your plastic bottles, you have to take off the cap and remove the plastic labels beforehand.
What about trash that do not belong to any of the categories mentioned above? For example, what if you have a large wooden table, a fridge and a laptop to dispose of?
For the table (or any large stuff), although it’s technically combustible, its size does not qualify it to be dumped together with the other “combustibles” on Tuesday and Friday. You need to take it to the incinerator yourself. As for the fridge (or any other household electronic item), it’s classified under “recyclables”. You’ll need to take it to a recycling center. That’s not all – you actually have to pay money to get rid of it. The actual amount may vary, but it’s usually around US$20.
And the laptop? Take it back to the place where you bought it. So if you brought over your laptop from your own country to use here in Japan, and decide to dispose of it later, you’re going to have a problem.
Fortunately, all is not dark and gloomy. Even the Japanese themselves find that dumping large stuff and electronics is a pain in the neck, so instead, they usually do one of two things:
One: Sell unwanted stuff at a “recycle shop” (note that this is different from a recycling center). Don’t expect to be paid a lot, though. These shops buy low and sell high. That’s how they make a profit. Still, it’s more convenient than going to the incinerator or a recycling center. Plus, there are more recycle shops than trash bins around, so most people usually go for this option.
Two: In the middle of the night, go to some remote place and dump the unwanted stuff. It’s illegal, of course, but people actually do that, and no one seems to get caught. This is a feasible option for those who can’t sell their stuff at recycle shops for some reason (for example, the stuff in question is damaged).
The one good thing amidst all the hassle rubbish disposal system in Japan is that it’s good for the environment. If you get used to this system, you might not find it troublesome anymore. Or, you might still find it a pain in the neck, but at the same time subconsciously develop an awareness of the importance of recycling.