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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Winter 2013: Tombs, Rotten Fish and Rain. . . lots of rain!

It has been one of those winters. You know, the ones where everything just seems to go in a direction that you would not have expected. Yes one of those winters.

The whole situation started about six months ago when I witnessed a ceremony happening at one of the tombs outside my house. (Now just to note I realize that six months ago it wasn’t winter but nevertheless this is when the situation started so hang in there with me and it will all make sense eventually.) Living in the center of what is basically a grave yard I wasn’t particularly surprised by the number of cars that were around on this day, although it was unusual. It was very possible there had been a recent death in one of the many families who lay their families to rest here. What was surprising what that the ancient clay jars holding the ashes and nones of the long ago dead were being taken out of the tomb. This was very odd and I could not help but watch, respectfully, from my window. The ceremony continued for a few hours until all of the family was gone. The next day trucks rolled in and eventually came the bulldozers which would eventually rip down the very old style tomb. For me, knowing what I know about the styles of tombs here on Okinawa, this was sad to see. In years past I had seen other tombs renovated but torn down like this? . . . never. Aside from my disappointment at the loss of a piece of history and culture what I did not know is that this would be the beginning of what would turn into a 6 day a week operation 8 to 10 hours a day for the next 6 months.

Now if you live in Japan you know that this sounds ridiculous. I can only imagine that you are thinking that I must be exaggerating purely based on the fact that a family mark can be torn down and turned into a two story duplex in less than 6 months here in Japan. How on earth can a tomb take that long? Well I was wondering the same thing day after day. The construction started at 7AM (650AM on some days) each day as the bulldozer slammed away at the stone, then the cliffside below, then loaded trucks filled with dirt so on and so on. For me and for many of the people who live in this neighborhood this construction meant non-stop banging and hammering from early in the morning (much earlier then most businesses even start opening here on the island). After about 4 months of this and when the first “mold” for one tomb was built they had to tear the whole thing down and start again for some reason. I remember seeing them do this and my heart nearly crumbled. It took them 4 months to get this far and 2 weeks to tear the whole thing down again. . . . it felt like it was never going to end.

Now here we are about 6 months later. The entire tomb is done and yesterday was the first morning of quiet that I have had in months. But then today banging and the loud hum of a generator again this morning. I have been looking out the window all morning trying to figure out what they are doing but there is no improvement. I can only hope that they are making finishing touches but then again at this point who knows.

As all of this was happening the rotten fish situation began to unfold. It all started in mid November. It was just about time for my in-laws to come visit and we noticed a sign on the door of my downstairs neighbor. My husband wasn’t sure what it was all about but I immediately knew that it was a business sign based on the way it was formatted. There was a business name, a phone number and our address. The only other word that I could recognize was the word that is used for sea snake meat. (Sea snake meat is something used in Okinawan dishes.) YAY! I thought to myself and asked some of my Japanese friends to help me translate the rest of the sign. I soon learned that the sign says that the downstairs apartment is now the distribution office of sea snake meat.

Although I was pissed (based on other problems I have had with this particular neighbor in the past using my parking area as a parking lot for her friends) I figured that it really wasn’t a huge deal, at least not yet. If it became a deal we would make sure we took care of the situation but until then whatever right? A few weeks pass and then all of a sudden as I am getting into my car I smell the nasty stench of trash. It smelled like rotting meat. YUCK! Because it was coming from near our housing area we tried to find out where it was coming from and immediately saw that our downstairs neighbor had failed to trow out any trash. It was all sitting about 10 feel from my car/parking area rotting away. Immediately we called the housing agency disgusted. Then the next day there were flies all over the place. It is hard to describe but it was as though there was a fly breeder near by who let them all loose. Some flies even made it into the house and we needed to lock down doors and windows to prevent any more from coming in. Disgusting! About a week later it rained torrentially outside and the smell was worse then ever. You could smell it all the way up and down the street. We called the housing agency again and explained the situation, how it smelled like rotten trash and now like fish which seems to make sense because she is a distributer of sea snake meat. The housing agency was surprised to find out that she had made her home a distribution office of sea snake meat. They then informed us that there isn’t much they can do right now because they cannot get a hold of the land lord.

This makes me wonder: What is the point of having a housing agency if they don’t do anything but contact the land lord to find out how to solve problems? I mean I would think that the housing agency would take the initiative to talk to the neighbor and explain that there is a problem and/or mandate that they take out the trash. I would also think that they would be the ones to in force the fact that there is a distribution office downstairs that claims to sell snake meat in a house that was not meant to be a business. That’s just me though. . . . .

The icing on the cake of the whole situation though is the rain. I am not particularly opposed to rain but the fact that it has been raining means that I cannot really get out of the house to go out and explore like I usually do. If I could then I could at least not have to listen to the slamming construction of smell the stench of rotten fish all day but the rain has been a slight problem in that area. That being said I have not had the ability to make OkiNinjaKitty videos like I would like and I have not had the will to make the videos that I would and could make right in the house.

That’s all for now folks. How has your winter been going so far? Let me know in the comments below!

Japanese Soaps and Soups: Saving Space and Money

There are a lot of things done here in Japan that are useful to say the least. One of those things is how products, particularly liquid products, are sold. As you already know Japan is an island which has a relatively large population making space limited especially on little islands like Okinawa. Recycling is very important as it sorting trash to ensure that everything is disposed of in as efficient of a manner as possible. In some ways Japan goes above and beyond to ensure that this can be done easily by it’s residents and consumers.

One of the ways that Japan handles this situation is offering refill bags for the liquid products sold in stores. Liquid products include shampoo, conditioner, window cleaner, hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, and so much more. These bags contain the same product but rather than coming in a hard plastic container which cannot be condensed down they come in a plastic bag which can be flattened down after the contents have been removed therefore taking up much less space when thrown away.

These bags are not only available for select products either, they are out there for everything that is liquid soap and on the shelf. There are also other products which have similar refills, such as air fresheners, which come in bags like this. You also may find that Japan uses the same type of bags rather than cans for foods such as pasta sauce and soup.

How do I use it: 

When you go to the store you’ll see that although these are refill bags you can still find plastic bottles. These plastic bottles are usually a bit more expensive then the refill and are meant for the initial purchase of the product. If you are purchasing the item for the first time you would purchase the plastic bottle of the product. If you find that you like it and would prefer continuing to use this product then simply buy the appropriate refill bag the next time you go to the store.

If you would rather save a little bit of money or (if you’re like me) would rather have a cute container for your shampoo and conditioner instead of using the plastic bottle produced by the company you can go to any of a variety of store around Japan and purchase an empty pump bottle. I personally have a Gachapin and Mukku for my shampoo and conditioner. This will allow you to skip purchasing the plastic bottle all together and just buy the refills.

Using the refill bag: 

Actually refilling your bottle is easy. A small tear off area is at the top of the bag and can be easily removed. You can then pour the contents of the bag into your appropriate bottle. In some cases you may even have a bag with a special design allowing you to insert part of the bag into the opening of the bottle to prevent spilling.

Give it a try: 

I think that these bags for refilling your favorite products are just great and worth giving a try. One thing’s for sure, you certainly use less space in the trash can and avoid having a huge pile of bottles around the house.

Have you even tried products like these? Let us know in the comments below.