The small town of 2,000 people in Kamikatsu, Japan are gaining international attention for their 2020 goal to become completely zero waste.
The Zero-Waste Academy, a non-profit organization, manages the towns recycling program. It’s a very strict recycling program, with 45 different categories that residents have to separate their trash into. There are bins for cardboard, newspapers, aluminum, scrap paper, and shredded paper (to name a few).
Seems like a lot, I know, but the residents are provided with a booklet with all the recycling guidelines. The citizens of Kamikatsu say at first it’s tough, because you have to separate the garbage, clean it, and bring it to the garbage facility. But, then it becomes a habit and teaches people how to change their lifestyles to produce less waste.
The towns participation in this program has allowed for 80% of their garbage to be recycled, reused/repurposed, and composted. The rest is brought to the landfill. Well, until 2020, when the town will be 100% completely zero waste.
The town of Kamikatsu considers their land sacred, since about 85% is covered with forested mountains. So when the residents saw how garbage was not only using up this land wastfully, but also affecting their health and environment, they knew they had to do something.
The country’s Postwar economic boom brought about mass amounts of waste. Companies began discharging large volumes of industrial waste, while urban development produced construction debris.
To put this into perspective, in 1960 Kamikatsu produced 8.9-million tons of garbage. Then in 1980, they produced 43.9-million tons of garbage. To deal with the accumulation of trash, it was burned in an incinerator, which posed huge health risks and caused environmental destruction. This lead to the 2003 recycling program, to get people on track for a zero waste society in 2020.
The recycling facility has turned into the town socal hub, where people come to chat and socialize.
Also, reusable items brought to the facility are then taken to the tableware library. This is where people can borrow cups, glass, silverware, and plates for celebrations, ultimately eliminating the need for single-use disposables. The tableware library help people see their trash in a new light, reduces waste, and helps build a better community.
To incinerate the towns trash was costly, you had to build the incinerators and manage the systems. Now people bring their trash to the facility, which has decreased waste management costs by 6 times. The town’s recycling program also brings in travelers from all around the world, who bring money into the town in the form of workshops they take and tourist activities.
The town doesn’t reply on landfills and incinerators and through this they are able to take back their land and reduce thick heavy smoke in their air.
It would be ideal if manufacturers had more responsibility for their non-recyclable packaging and the materials used in their products. But until then, there are things we can do together as a community to help decrease needless waste. Cities all over the world are working towards the goal of zero waste and you can too!