Do you find separating trash by paper and plastic a chore? Then think about the residents of Kamikatsu, a small town in the mountains of Shikoku Island in south-west Japan, who have to segregate trash into 45 different categories. At the waste collection center, there are separate bins for different types of products: newspapers, magazines, cartons, metal caps, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, steel cans, spray cans, fluorescent lights, and so on. You might think this is an overkill, but Kamikatsu’s residents have a goal to achieve—zero waste, and they are already at 80 percent complete.

Originally, Kamikatsu disposed trash just like any other small town around the world: they dumped it in nature or burned it at their homes. But burning trash produces an awful lot of greenhouse gases, and landfills pollute the environment. So Kamikatsu’s people decided to change. In 2003, they introduced the concept of “Zero Waste”.

In the beginning, it was difficult for everyone. Washing and sorting the trash became a tedious and time consuming task. Both glass and plastic bottles must be relieved of their caps and sorted by color. Plastic bottles for soy sauce and cooking oil must be kept separate from Pet bottles that once contained mineral water and green tea. Any plastic or paper wrapping around the bottles must be removed. Newspapers and magazines have to be piled into neat bundles and tied with a twine. The rules are myriad.

There are no garbage trucks to collect trash from homes, so residents have to bring their own trash to the recycling center.

“Workers at the center then make sure the trash has been properly sorted and goes into the right bins.”

Used clothes, jewelry and other stuff that people no longer need are dropped off at the recycling store and exchanged for other items that others have dropped off, at no cost. Down the street, there’s a local factory where the women of the town produce items from unwanted goods, like teddy bears from old kimono.

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What was originally a huge burden became a way of life in Kamikatsu. People began to look at trash differently. They became more conscious of what they buy, how they use and how they dispose things. One store owner in Kamikatsu said that since the program started, he began to buy things that only came in cardboard boxes so that boxes can be used for packing other things.

Eventually, the small town of just over 1,700 people become so good at recycling that only 20 percent of trash produced goes to the landfill, but they hope to eliminate even that by 2020.


This feature originally appeared in Amusing Planet.

 

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