In the States, trash is trash. I’d throw my trash into the closest can I found and wouldn’t think twice about it. Sure, I’d try my best to recycle, but if there were no recycle-specific cans available nearby, then I wouldn’t go out of my way to find one…
…which is a big reason why living in Japan is a lot more challenging than I’d thought it would be.
After arriving in Minoh, MAFGA (the organization that facilitated orientation for JET’s and has since been helping me and my fellow English teachers get accustomed to living in Japan) gave each JET about 100 20 liter trash bags, specifically for 燃えるごみ、or burnable garbage. Each city in Japan has their own trash bags, often with the city’s name marked on the front. These are the only bags accepted for disposal on trash days. Minoh’s looks like this:
So yeah, there are multiple trash days. 3 per week to be exact…
And this is where it gets complicated (as if wasn’t already complicated enough!).
Tuesdays and Fridays are the days for burnable garbage – paper, plastic, cardboard, food waste, etc. At first I thought twice a week seemed excessive, since in the states there’s only one pickup day per week, but the time between Fridays and Tuesdays actually feels like ages to me… The difference is that I don’t have a large trashcan outside where I can throw out my bags full of food waste, like I did in the States, so I’ve been forced to keep my trash inside my apartment until I can dispose of it on trash day – banana peels and all.
Every apartment building has its own designated trash collection spot. My apartment’s spot is on the sidewalk along a main street to make it easier for the garbage truck to make a quick stop.
The garbage truck comes promptly by 9am, so it’s important to take the trash out before then. The other day, a sign was posted next to the collection area that reminded people, in aggressively large print, to take their trash bags out before 9am on the appropriate days.
As for un-burnable garbage, that can get a bit trickier: the first and third Wednesday of the month are the days for recyclable plastic bottles, while the second and fourth Wednesdays are aluminum/glass bottle days. (Yeah, I know, I forget all the time.)
For the first few weeks, I didn’t know how to recycle un-burnable garbage, because MAFGA had only given JET’s bags for burnable garbage. I had no idea what to do with all of my bottles, and I didn’t have the guts to ask for help. So I would throw out my bottles at random cans in front of convenience stores. But then I learned that recycling your bottles at convenience stores is actually illegal! There are even outdoor video cameras pointed at the trash cans to scare people off. (So if I end up getting arrested in Japan, it’s probably because I was caught on one of those cameras.)
I wasn’t all that interested in getting arrested, so instead of continuing to break the law, I decided I’d have to figure out how to recycle properly.
On a Wednesday morning, I walked out to the sidewalk where the garbage gets picked up to see how everyone else was doing it. I didn’t see any bags, but I did see several baskets filled to the brim with crushed cans. I figured out that people just bring out their cans and bottles and dump them out into designated bins. (Which is why MAFGA didn’t give us bags for cans.) The bins kind of look like this:
So, I wouldn’t say that I’ve mastered the art of trash in Japan just yet, but I at least know how to recycle my leftover bottles without committing a felony.