Waste management was never a topic I bothered to learn on my own out of personal interest. When I came to Japan in 2016 with my family, I never noticed their meticulous way of separating waste. At the hotels we stayed at, there was only one trash bin to dispose our waste in, and looking back, I don't recall ever separating my trash by incombustible and combustible. From then until now, waste management in regards to sustainable development has developed tremendously. These past few weeks, I have noticed the drastic difference in the disposal of municipal solid waste between the United States and Japan.
Known for its incineration facilities, Japan disposes their garbage by burning it using various furnace technologies. Each new development in furnace technology aims to increase power generation efficiency while reducing pollution. With Japan's extremely high population density, it is essential for them to make best use of their limited space. Although, a disadvantage of incinerating waste is that it emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which is detrimental to the environment. The United States, on the other hand, takes advantage of its spacious land by burying trash in landfills. While landfills do not produce greenhouse gas emissions, it is not necessarily beneficial to permanently dump waste wherever there is space.
In terms of waste disposal in day-to-day life, I can almost never find a trash can on the streets of Japan. It is troublesome to carry my ice cream wrapper or boba cup around all day until I return to the apartment, but the lack of trash cans has kept the streets extremely clean. You would think that people would be more inclined to litter, but with Japan's culture, they would not risk getting publicly shamed. In some areas, the vending machines do have their own disposal bin for the PET bottles. At Kobe University, it seems that there is always a set of four disposal bins stationed at every corner, with the distinct labels of: combustibles, cans, incombustibles, and PET bottles. At Georgia Tech, there are typically different bins for paper, plastic, cans, and more, yet these labels for recycling are still different from those in Japan. Trash cans are commonly found on the streets in America, but there is usually only one bin for disposing all kinds of trash. It is pretty rare to find a recycling bin unless you are at a university, public school, or perhaps a company building.
With Japan's sustainable efforts, recycling has greatly reduced the production of waste stream. With what seems like a million different bins to consider before throwing your trash away, Japan does come off as extremely nitpicky with their waste disposal, but this further encourages recycling so that many items can be repurposed. With less waste needing to be incinerated, there is then a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, waste control is not only necessary for tackling environmental issues such as land surface degradation and the depletion of natural resources, but it is, more importantly, necessary to build more sustainable communities.