“Kitchen, bathroom and garden waste are all considered combustible waste,” states the English guide to trash disposal in Japan. I re-read those instructions once again, then twice, to clarify that those materials are in fact burned. There are eight different categories that residents of Japan are required to separate their household trash into.
Why would the most biodegradable waste be considered combustible?
This discovery surprised me. Japan, the country that called upon the rest of the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the Kyoto Protocol, is using which seems to be one of the most destructive waste management techniques. If there were already eight categories, how come there wasn’t a ninth: compostable.
In a country that is only 377 900km2, Japan is currently home to over 127 million people, and, like the rest of the world, that number is growing. Space is a limiting factor when it comes to efficiently storing and dealing with waste.
That is why in 2000, Japan enacted the Fundamental Law for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society. This law states that in Japan, the natural resource use is limited. The law also encourages and promotes recycling – everything from plastic to heat recapture.
Japan practices something called waste to power generation, where heat generated from incinerated garbage is recovered and used as energy. This energy is captured then used to fuel different industrial needs, such as steel production. One study even suggests that in the long run, if all household waste was processed at high efficiency incineration plant, a 5-26% reduction in carbon dioxide could be seen over time. A seemingly genius idea when space is restricted.
However, this technique still needs work. Incineration of municipal waste is still the top producer of carbon dioxide emissions in Japan’s waste management industry. There is always a net loss of energy. In addition, not all incineration facilities practice heat recapture and power generation.
It seems that although Japan is making a conscious effort to help reduce or last reuse emissions, there is still a lot of work to do. For now, the simpler things should be focused on. For instance, there is a tendency to over package everything (ex. individually plastic wrapped fruits). Cutting out excess package would both help to reduce the production and disposal emissions.
Until a higher efficiency or zero-emission tactic is produced, the only way to keep combustible waste emissions low is to reduce the amount of waste used through less packaging, draining moisture from food and home composting.
This is especially important considering the growing 127 million people and space limitations in Japan.