Upon visiting Japan for the first time, one might notice something peculiar about the streets, might notice the absence of something that it usually so commonplace in other countries, but that one wouldn’t notice the absence of until necessary—in Japan, there are no public trashcans. Save for the occasional plastic bottle receptacle next to vending machines, the streets of Tokyo are completely trashcan-less. There are a number of theories on this, but the most widely accepted seems to be the acquired, newly cultural view that people should throw their garbage away in their own homes. Despite this being true, the streets of Japan are almost unnaturally clean and trash free. This tendency, I think, may be in part due to Japan’s dedication to recycling, a tendency that appears in many places.
In Japan, there are many sorting systems in place in order to facilitate proper recycling. Many fast food restaurants and food courts that I’ve been to around Japan have special sorting systems for depositing trash. Any liquids or ice left over is poured into a special metal funnel inset into the trash receptacle, which filters into a special liquid container. All plastics, straws, lids, stirs, etc. are placed in one side of the trash can, while food and other combustible trash is placed in another. I was impressed upon first noticing this system—it’s such a simple and effective measure for the sake of aiding the process of recycling, especially on an island that certainly has no extra room for landfills. If used in other countries, such an implementation would allow for much easier, practical sorting. It’s a wonder I have seen it nowhere else. My dormitory also has a system like the one at McDonalds, though it is much more complex. On each floor of the building, there are six different receptacles in which to organize trash. There are bins for combustibles, incombustibles, cans & glass bottles, pet (plastic) bottles, plastics, and recyclable paper. There is also a separate container for pet bottle caps, as a student organization on campus collects these for charity. It would seem, rather than allowing citizens to amass their garbage in public trashcans as in the U.S., forcing citizens to throw their garbage away at home heightens accountability, and forces the Japanese to be responsible about their trash.
In terms of energy, Japan has been forced to preserve since the Tohoku Earthquake in March of this year. Because of damage, there has been less in the way of electricity production lately. Therefore, Japan is currently undergoing a period of energy preservation called Setsuden. Many business and government-run buildings are making attempts to cut down on power, often posting signs to deter use of elevators, lighting when not needed, and going so far as to cut all lighting during certain hours. Street lighting in the popular neon sign-lit streets of Tokyo has also been dimmed to an extent. Setsuden is a necessary program that seems to be taken seriously by all Japanese, and has thus far prevented black outs in the much more serious post-March 11th Japan. Japan’s sense of energy conservation is something that I will definitely take away from my stay here. I’ve noticed the change in my habits due to my increasing annoyance with my roommate, who insists on having all lights and air conditioning units on at all times.
Overall, Japan seems to be an extremely conservation-conscious country, a tendency that is facilitated, I believe, by the size and high population of the country. However, Japan sets a good example for practical waste management, no matter how large or small the country.