Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Tsuzuki Incineration Plant and the Midori Recycling Center in Yokohama. This was my first time visiting a solid waste management center and I really learned a lot.
Unlike in Canada, waste is locally collected 6 days a week. Different wastes have been assigned different days and in Yokohama waste must be separated into 10 categories: burnables, non-burnables, spray cans, plastic containers, PET, small metal items, batteries, paper, used cloth and oversized garbage. In communities there are designated waste collection areas, the garbage collectors will only collect your trash if it is in the designated area. If waste has not been segregated properly then it is left and marked with a warning sticker that provides an explanation of why the garbage has not been collected. If you receive multiple warnings you get a 2,000 yen fine.
What surprised me about the garbage trucks in Japan is that they sing songs, are often brightly coloured, and they are tiny. I actually got to drive one and empty it out! If I’m being completely honest I didn’t get far and didn’t leave the parking lot… the parking break remained on the entire time so I guess it was less drive and more sit in a garbage truck. Nonetheless it was one of the greatest things I have ever done. The trucks we got to see during our visit had cute little anime characters that are used to help promote sustainable consumption to schoolchildren. During the summer holidays, the Tsuzuki ward also hosts visits from children so that they understand what happens to their garbage.
The next stop during my visit was the Midori Recycling Center. I loved this place almost too much. There is something incredibly satisfying about seeing thousands of cans and bottles getting squeezed together into perfect cubes of resources. At the recycling center, recycled goods that have been collected are sorted and then recycled or sold raw to private companies. When recycling arrives at the center it is sorted by machine. A large set of choppers cut open plastic bags of recycled goods and separate them into cans, plastics, and glass. After the machines there are people who assist in the sorting process, glass for example needs to be sorted according to its color. The workers stand along the conveyor belt and have each been assigned a specific material. When their material arrives they toss it into its designated hole. Machines can only get you so far and that’s why human workers are needed to ensure materials are properly sorted.
The Midori Recycling Center is Yokohama’s oldest recycling facility. Fun fact, the center is 23, which is the same age as me. The employees are all very proud of the work that they do and they are happy to share their knowledge on sustainability with communities in Yokohama. The passion for recycling extends to the uniforms that the employees wear, and worker uniforms are made using recycled PET.
Throughout the visit my perception on waste completely changed and it was a very rewarding experience. I grew up in Toronto and we do not incinerate our garbage, instead we ship tons of garbage to landfills every single day. We have so much garbage that our landfills are filling up. It really is not a sustainable way to deal with trash. This is why I was so fascinated by seeing an incineration plant in action. Incineration plants in Yokohama run 24/7 and the energy created through the incineration process is enough to power the entire site and parts of the recreation center next to the plant. Garbage is store within a huge 130m tall chamber and is aerated and lifted into the incinerator by a massive crane. Moisture found within the garbage needs to be aerated in order to optimize the incineration process. Outside of the garbage chamber you cannot smell anything. Incineration plants were introduced in Yokohama during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Over recent years new initiatives in the City of Yokohama have encouraged citizens to produce less waste, which has resulted in the closing of two incineration plants. The city hopes to continue reducing it’s waste and truly become a waste free city. Unfortunately though Yokohama is a waste conscious city, 10% of incinerated waste is untouched food that has not been opened or eaten and 15% of waste should have been recycled. Visiting the incineration plant was a good reminder to always take the time to sort through everything and not buy more food than I can eat.
Yokohama is one Japan’s leading cities in waste management and this site visit helped show why that is the case. We hear it often but I think it is worth repeating, everyone should do their part in order to reuse, reduce and recycle. Before buying something new and throwing something away, we need to think about whether it truly is garbage or if parts can be used, recycled or fixed. This week I actually went out and bought needle and thread and I fixed a hole in a sweater with a patch. The sweater still did sweater like things and there was absolutely no reason to throw it out.
This entire site-visit brought out the child in me. The whole time I had a foolish grin on my face, I loved the whole thing. I love getting a behind the scenes look into something you take for granted. When we are finished with items and toss them in the trash it is only that objects beginning. We need to think about the whole journey and become more connected to the garbage that we create. I really wish more people could participate in site visits like this.