Trash is an inevitability; every country produces tons of waste on a daily basis. Disposing of this waste has been an evolving and growing concern. Each country has its own method of dealing with this waste. Japan’s method of trash disposal is widely different than what I’ve seen in America.
Japan deals with their municipal solid waste mostly by incineration. Initially when I found this out, I was concerned with the toxic fumes emitted from burning garbage. According to the article “Solid Waste Management and Recycling Technology of Japan − Toward a Sustainable Society,” using new innovative technologies, the amount of dioxin released into the atmosphere is incredibly low. Japan has a few landfills scattered across the country, but they are rare. The landfills they do establish are semi-aerobic. Semi-aerobic landfills quickly stabilize after the land is completely filled, making them sanitary. Semi-aerobic landfills in Japan are converted into parks and fields. We had the privilege of visiting a landfill that was rehabilitated into solar fields. America incinerates some of the municipal waste, mainly food products. However, most of the U.S.’s garbage is stored in landfills. American landfills often turn into mountains, and cannot be reused as parks. America is able to do this due to the size of the country; there is a lot of open space in America where garbage can be dumped and left. This is not an option for Japan due to the limited land. As long as the toxic fumes are minimized, I would consider incinerating trash more sustainable since it prevents future generations from suffering. In many years, American citizens will have to deal with the mountains of trash.
In Japan, there are surprisingly few trash cans in public places. Usually, there are garbage cans around vending machines, bathrooms, and food shops, but not many other places. Despite this, there is very little litter around the cities. Japan is a shame culture, so littering would cause a perpetrator to lose face. In America, trash cans are much more available, but the amount of litter is also more frequent. Sometimes there is even trash on the ground when there is a garbage can nearby. Another difference between the waste disposal systems I have encountered is the separation of trash types. In Japan, there are usually three or four disposals next to each other: incinerated trash, P.E.T. bottles, cans, and other plastics. These bins are usually labeled in both Japanese and English. America usually only uses a general trash can for all waste. In more environmentally friendly places, a second garbage can is available for general recycling. On Georgia Tech’s campus, there are specific waste disposals for different types of trash, like cans, bottles, and newspapers. This is not the standard in America, unfortunately.
The separation of recyclables on the user end makes recycling much more efficient in Japan. Recycling is a higher priority for their population. Japan is also constantly improving their recycling processes by refining their recyclables and removing foreign contaminants. Americans usually recycle only when it is convenient. America recycled 67.8 million tons of waste in 2015 while the total generation of municipal waste in 2015 was 262.4 million tons. America recycled 25% of its waste, making it slightly ahead of Japan’s recycling rate of 20.8% in 2012. This is surprising given the amount of effort Japan puts into the separation of trash and recyclables.
Waste management is a global problem. To make a more sustainable world, trash solutions must continue to be developed. Japan’s answer of incineration is an immediate and attractive solution if the proper precautions and sanitary processes are used. America’s solution of landfills is less sustainable; they are not a long-term resolution. Japan’s lack of litter and separation of trash is also more impressive than the U.S. Despite this, America is more efficient at recycling municipal waste. If America could implement Japan’s separation of trash and adopt Japan’s priorities around trash disposal, recycling could become even more effective.