In lecture on Thursday, we discussed the historical development of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) management policies in Japan and the United States. Both countries started creating legal policies for waste in the mid-1900s for environmental protection. The Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) of 1965 was the first US MSW law enacted, and the Waste Management Act of 1970 in Japan became its framework for MSW policy. The beginnings of waste policies were very similar in timeliness, yet today we see that these countries look very different with how they handle waste.
As I discussed in my last post, Japan policy has created a majority incineration-based management while the US relies more on landfills. This is fairly logical from a space argument; the US is much less dense of a country than Japan and has space (for now at least) for landfills. Space solutions are similar for radioactive waste as it is literally just sitting in storage facilities because there's no long term solution for what to do with it. Space is our asset for waste in this country.
Japan, on the other hand, is small and highly populated—and the space used for landfills becomes unproductive (or can't be used for many other activities). Our field trip to the solar panel center showed one way the Kansai region is making use of a landfill as a spot for solar panels. The choice of incineration allows for Japan to save space, and its visually cleaner than landfills.
So space is a large factor in the choice of how to get rid of waste. But looking at the effectiveness of these policies also requires an understanding of what is being thrown away. Japan and the US have different definitions of what MSW is, and what should be recycled. In the United States, MSW includes bottles and corrugated boxes, food, grass clippings, furniture, computers, tires and refrigerators. In Japan, consumer recycling policy is more refined to include home appliances, and fertilizer and feed producers. These were put into policy by the Home Appliance Recycling Law (2001), which is intended to promote the recycling of useful parts and reduces the amount of unwanted household appliances in local landfills. Additionally, the Food Recycling law of 2000 called for a recycle loop for feed and fertilizers.
A comparative outcome is this: approximately 50% of solid wastes are recycled in Japan, compared to about 30% in the United States. Japan's recycling efforts have increasing at a higher rate than the US has since policy was originally instituted.
The reasons for more effective policy in the United States appear to be cultural, as we discussed in breakout groups the other day. Japan has a concept called "Mottainai," which means treasuring and using things for as long as possible. I think as Americans, this practice of conservation was more common during the Great Depression, but today, we have a culture of planned obsolescence—things are made to be finite. We're also trendy, and we (specifically my generation) replaces things quickly as they fall out of style. And because MSW policies aren't very strict in the country at the household level, the result is a lot of disorganized waste.
Through transit, and now through waste management, I've found that the United States can learn a lot from Japan.