Due to the discrepancies in culture among the various nations of the world, there are certain to be differences concerning policies dedicated to the management of municipal solid waste (MSW). After attending lectures, viewing resources, and having my own experiences with the methods in which MSW is dealt with, I have come to realize disparities that exist between MSW management in the United States and that of Japan. The divergence in the approaches of the United States and Japan can be connected to the amount of land occupied by each country, how each country utilizes its land, and the timeline of the establishment of MSW policies.
The most obvious reason for the differences in MSW policies between the United States and Japan is the fact that the United States possesses a significantly larger land area than Japan, with Japan being slightly smaller than the state of California. Not only is Japan smaller than the United States, but it also has a higher population density, which means that every bit of the nation’s available land must be utilized efficiently. Because of Japan’s inclination towards the maximization of the use of its land, it leans towards the usage of incineration to dispose of its MSW. Although land is still required for MSW incinerating facilities as well as for landfills for containing the ashes produced by these facilities, they occupy far less land in comparison to landfills in the United States. Not only are incinerators more space-efficient, but Japan even has some facilities that are aesthetically pleasing, such as the Maishima Incineration Plant in Osaka, which looks like it could be some type of theme park attraction.
(Photo taken from https://www.justgola.com/a/maishima-incineration-plant-2274040)
Conversely, because of the expansiveness of the United States, we tend to use landfills as a major method of discarding MSW. Aside from the feasibility of landfills in the United States due to its considerable land area, landfills also exist as a capitalist venture, with the majority of landfills being owned by private companies, thus perpetuating their existence in a considerably money-driven society.
Although Japan favors the use of incineration, landfills still exist within the nation, though they are few and far between compared to the United States. However, Japan has attempted to implement this form of MSW disposal in a more sustainable manner through the creation of semi-aerobic landfills, which expedite the process of waste stabilization, thereby allowing the land to be reclaimed more quickly. The establishment of semi-aerobic landfills stems from the Japanese people’s need to utilize its limited land area to its maximum potential, as landfills that have been reclaimed are often used as parks or sporting grounds. This reclaimed land can even be employed in the progression of sustainable development, which is expressed by the construction of the Sokai Solar Energy Generation Plant on top of a repurposed landfill.
In addition to the difference between the land areas of the United States versus Japan as well as the variations among the ways in which these nations make use of their land, the United States and Japan also differ in the fact that the implementation of MSW management policies in Japan occurred over a longer timeframe than in the United States. Globally, steps towards the proper management of MSW disposal management were not taken until around the 1970s, but by the 1980s, the United States was essentially finished with establishing policies in this area. On the other hand, MSW management policy formation in Japan continued much into the 1990s and 2000s, encompassing topics including recycling and food waste. The fact that Japan was able to go above and beyond the United States’ efforts in the domain of MSW policy exhibits its ability to rally its population behind a common goal and its commitment to sustainable development. Attempts to pass more legislation concerning MSW management, as well as laws regarding sustainable development as a whole or even the environment, have been generally unsuccessful in the United States due to deep divisions that lie within American society. Some Americans believe that the economy and the environment exist at two opposite ends of the spectrum, so we can only commit to one or the other, which means that the United States usually places the environment and sustainable development on the back burner. However, the United States can gain inspiration from Japan as it has realized methods for promoting both its economy as well as sustainable development.
Environmental and cultural factors play large roles in the process of creating any type of policy, and that includes policies concerning the proper management of MSW disposal. In countries such as Japan, these elements may lead to the formation of more progressive and sustainable policies and practices. Conversely, although countries like the United States have made some efforts in the improvement of MSW policy, considerable development is still necessary in this domain. However, because of the vitality of appropriate methods for dealing with MSW to a prosperous society, it is critical that further steps are taken in this realm to ensure an elevated standard of living for both current people as well as future generations.