Mysteries of the Trash Can Revealed: How to separate and put out trash in Japan


One of the many things that baffle and bewilder foreigners who are new to Japan is the process of putting out trash. Unlike other countries Japan takes disposal of trash and recycling very seriously. How seriously you ask? Well. . . . here in Japan there are approximately 9 categories of trash. Each type of trash needs to be cared for differently and is collected on a different day (which varies based on where you live).

Although it sounds confusing the process of cleaning, sorting and disposing of trash is really rather simple. In today’s post we’re going to cover all of the bases and talk about everything you need to know to get your trash picked up!

Trash Bags 

There are two main types of trash bags used in Japan. The first is your city-designated trash bag. This is a bag that can be purchased from local convenience stores and supermarkets which is printed with a design and logo indicating what city the trash bags are designated for. These trash bags come in 3 different sizes (small, medium and large) which can be used to dispose of most types of trash.

The second type of trash bag is a simple clear bag. These can also be found at convenience stores and supermarkets in your area. These clear trash bags are used for recyclable items such as cans, bottles, plant materials and so on. These bags come in a wide variety of sizes.

You will notice that only clear trash bags are used in Japan. This is to prevent confusion and insure that the appropriate trash is being thrown out on the appropriate day. White and black trash bags are not considered acceptable in Japan and therefore will not be collected.

Pickup Schedule 

To ensure that trash is picked up in the most efficient way possible each city has designated pickup schedules. These schedules can be found on some city websites or can be inquired about at your local city/town office.

Although schedules vary based on your location trash tends to be picked up anywhere from 4 to 5 times a week. This includes 2 days for combustable trash, 1 to2 days for recyclables, 1 day for non-combustable trash and another day for plant materials.

Combustable Waste

The most common type of waste is combustable waste. Combustable waste is, much like the name suggest, trash that can be burned. This includes kitchen garbage, vinyl/plastic items, styrofoam trays, rubber/leather items, paper scraps, clothes, CDs and other similar items.

Combustable trash, which is usually picked up 2 times each week, must be disposed of using city-designated trash bags. These bags should have the ability to close securely. It is also important to note that you cannot exceed the number of trash bags designated for your area for one collection day. For example in my city the number of trash bags per collection day cannot exceed 6.

Non-Combustable Waste 

Trash that does not burn is considered non-combustable and needs to be separated from other combustable trash. These items include cups, dishes, broken bottles, kettles, umbrellas, metal products, small-sized electrical appliances, batteries, incandescent bulbs, hangers and other similer items.

Non-combustable trash needs to be disposed os using city-designated trash bags.These bags should have the ability to close securely. It is also important to note that you cannot exceed the number of bags designated for your each for one collection day. For example in my city the number of trash bags per collection day cannot exceed 6. Unlike combustable trash which is picked up twice a week non-combustable trash is only picked up every other week.

Plant Waste 

Any type of trash that consists of plant material such as grass, leaves, small twigs and logs is considered plant waste. There are two ways to dispose of plant waste. The first is to gather it up into clear plastic bags. The second is to bundle it. If you are bundling your plant waste it should be no more than 1m in length and properly secured.

It is important to keep in mind that wood which has been coated with preservatives, such as plywood or any other treated wood, is not considered recyclable and should be treated as combustable or large-sized waste. Like other types of trash you cannot exceed the designated number of bags per collection day.

Can/Bottle/Paper/Harmful Waste

Collected once each week are a variety of items to include what is known as harmful waste and also recyclables. Each of these items needs to be cared for and disposed of differently.

Cans made of aluminum or steel are to be rinsed out and put into a clear plastic bag. The same process is required for unbroken glass bottles.

Paper items are divided up into 5 separate categories including magazines, newspapers, cardboard, milk cartons and paper waste. Magazines, newspapers (including circulars) and cardboard are to be stacked and bundled using twine. Milk cartons (including cartons used for tea, juice and various types of sake) must be rinsed, dried, cut so that they are flat (instructions for this can be found on each carton). Once they are clean and dry then can be bundled. Finally is paper waste. This consists of paper used to make cake boxes, envelopes or packing paper. It is important to note that paper waste will not be collected on rainy days.

Finally is the category known as harmful waste. This consists of florescent tubes, mercury thermometers and lighters. These items should also be bagged separately in a clear plastic bag.

PET Bottles 

PET bottles, also known as plastic bottles, are a type of plastic bottle used widely throughout Japan. They have the familiar “recycle” logo with a number 1 and the letters PET located on the bottle. These PET bottles can be put in a clear plastic bag (either crushed or not) and are collected once every other week.

Large-sized Waste

Trash that is too bag for a city-designated trash bag or falls into a certain category is considered large-sized waste. These items require special attention and additional cost to dispose of. This includes items such as furniture, electronic pianos, bikes, window shades, tatami, carpet, futons, sheets, iron dumbbells, stoves, and oil heaters. 

To dispose of these items you will need to purchase special disposal tickets. These tickets can be purchased from convenience stores and supermarkets. Once the appropriate number of tickets has been purchased a reservation needs to be made to have your item picked up. This can be done by visiting your city office. Once the reservation date has been set ensure that you have your large item out on the curb by 8:00 (or the time designated by your city) on the collection day.

Items That Can’t Be Collected 

Like is the case anywhere else Japan also has a list of items that cannot be collected. These items include chemicals, fire extinguishers, compressed gas tanks, water tanks, motorcycles, tires, car batteries, pianos, automotive waste, TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, and personal computers. To have these items collected you will need to contact a private collection company.

Taking time to separate trash can sometimes seem very tedious. However, with a little bit of practice and this guide you should be a pro in no time! Also do not forget to visit your local city office for more detailed information about separating trash and trash collection schedules in your area.

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2 thoughts on “Mysteries of the Trash Can Revealed: How to separate and put out trash in Japan

  1. You wouldn’t happen to know if the pet bottles are ONLY bottles or everything with a 1 on them, would you? This seems to be the mystery of the world recently.

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