Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Won't Miss #54 - washing my trash (reflection)


Times have changed since I lived in the U.S. and I'm also living in a different area. I grew up in a rural area and the way we handled our garbage tended to be to either burn it in a trash pile some distance from our house or to haul it to the local dump. I never thought about who owned/managed the town dump, but I'm guessing our taxes rented the space for everyone to leave their unwanted junk. The benefits of our system was that getting rid of trash was easy. The down side was that there were rats in our trash pile in warmer times.

Japan, as everyone has heard, has a highly diversified recycling system and I had to keep seven different trash receptacles in my tiny apartment in Tokyo. That was hassle enough, but we were also required to wash everything well before getting rid of it. This was no small hassle, especially given my limited kitchen space and how long it takes something like a milk carton to dry once it has been washed.

In the area that I'm in now, there is what is called "single stream" recycling. That means I don't have to have an elaborate array of separate receptacles, but I do have to separate what can be recycled and what cannot. We don't have to wash things, but I have read that it is encouraged. It's my guess that it may become mandatory at one point, but the local governments are taking this recycling thing one step at a time. First, they have to get people to separate trash, then they'll worry about washing it.

I'm somewhat torn about the trash washing now. I know America's handling of recycling is sloppy and substandard, but the Japanese way was enormously complex and troublesome. In the end though, I'm the type of person who will opt for the good of the many over my own good. I'd trade having to meticulously separate and wash my trash again for a better and more thorough recycling system in the U.S. despite the hassle for me personally.

11 comments:

  1. I've gotten into the habit of rinsing dairy containers only to keep my trash can from smelling. For some reason once a trash can picks up rot smell I can never seem to get rid of the smell no matter what I do to the trash can :(

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    1. I've noticed the same problem. To combat this, I keep all "wet" (what the Japanese often called "nama" or "raw") trash in a separate sealed pail. I use old plastic food containers (the bigger ones - though I have 3 because they're not that big). I wash them out every time I empty the trash from them, but they also have picked up a smell. Fortunately, I only smell it when I'm handling that type of trash and not when I'm dealing with anything else! But it is pretty awful, especially over time. However, I can toss and replace them when they get too bad as they're just old food buckets.

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  2. Osaka is a lot more easy-going than Tokyo when it comes to garbage disposal. There are four divisions (cans,PET bottles and glass can go in the same bag, plastic is another day, and regular garbage – table scraps and the like – on two other days). Rinsing is encouraged, but not required. I do it because it keeps the cockroaches away. Newspapers and magazines are picked up monthly by private recyclers - you just tie it up and leave it outside your front door on the designated morning.

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    1. My experience (both in the U.S. and Japan) is that nothing keeps the cockroaches away. I've learned that they can live on the tiniest bits of residue (like on toothbrushes). They're attracted by the smell of food (like through your ventilation fan in the kitchen).

      Osaka does seem a lot more easy-going than Tokyo. The rules we had were much stricter and newspapers and magazines were picked up by the local authorities once a week.

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    2. I actually find Tokyo's strict recycling policies fascinating and wish the US could have a more unified mandate on the topic. And I agree on the cockroach thing. My mom and I are neat freaks to the core but cleanliness and fresh scents won't deter a cockroach. Interestingly enough however, my family moved to a new home in the last two and a half years and still have yet to see one roach, fly, spider, ant, or other pest inside our home. Though this spring a bee was blown inside, but that doesn't count. It's nice but as someone who has lived in both Ny and Fl and seen some monster insects(among other things), its both nice to be rid of the tiny vermin and odd at the same time.

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    3. Unfortunately, the same issues which keep Americans in cars (vastly spread out population) makes efficiently recycling difficult. By the time you expend the energy to collect the trash and take it to a center, you've done more damage than throwing out the trash. :-(

      Regarding the roaches (and other insects), I've lived in three cities in a roughly limited area in the Bay Area and two did not have roaches and one did. Roaches need specific environments to live in and two of them didn't have them. The one I'm in now, apparently, does. I think it's a combination of the age and composition of the structure and the foliage type. They move in, but they weren't brought here by the people. They were already here and the people gave them another place to go.

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  3. We also live in a single stream recycling area. It has taken us some months to learn what can be recycled vs what can be composted. All in all, though, it is a great system. I wish more cities would adopt it as it greatly reduces what ends up in a landfill.

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  4. I query the wisdom behind domestic washing of recyclables. If this is done to ease the process of recycling, how much water is wasted per household? How much could be saved if this was done in a single plant on an industrial scale?

    It is also strangely patchwork. What about plastics and glass from combini and public rubbish/trash bins? Are items here washed by eager Family Mart staff?

    Also, I cycle near the Arakawa river. There is a recycling plant where plastics are processed into batches for moving across the city for processing. The place stinks of dead food and drink.

    My only complaint is the absolute lack of paper recycling. Plastics, metal, glass. But paper (out side of those big manga you get weekly or monthly) seems forgotten.

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    1. There has been a lot of debate about the washing your trash thing and I've seen things on both sides. I don't know if there is any concrete evidence, but generally, I would agree with you that industrial washing would *seem* more efficient as doing anything on a larger scale does seem to be more efficient.

      As Hiyodori said, we had paper recycling in two ways where I lived. You could put it out on Fridays with a bunch of other stuff or you could do it with a private recycling agency that came on a different schedule and they'd give you free rolls of toilet paper in exchange for your paper items. The Friday stuff went out with the milk cartons and cardboard. It's all regional scheduling and collection, so your area may be different, but I think most areas have the sort of paper recycling that Hiyodori and I experienced.

      Incidentally, I think the Japanese don't worry about wasting water. I had this discussion with people and the whole idea that water has to be used and then cleaned when you do things didn't occur to them. It is an issue, however, and a good point for you to make.

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  5. No paper recycling?!

    We bag our newspapers up and put them out once a month to be picked up and exchanged for a couple rolls of toilet paper made from recycled newspapers.

    We also bundle up used magazines etc. and put them out for pickup on recycling day, along with other regular paper.

    Most unneeded writing / printing paper used on only one side we cut up into smaller sizes to reuse as memo paper.

    Many people I know in Japan do similar things

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  6. The UK recycles plastic bags, glass bottles, PET, paper and card, metal etc. We have points in super markets for recycling batteries (I haven't seen those in the two years I have been here except in school staff rooms).

    The big bugbear is the amount of redundant packaging on Japanese goods. The polystyrene, the moulded plastic, the laminated card. All waste.

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