Japan and the US have cultural and environmental differences that affect how we dispose of waste. Factors such as size, rule following, and stigmas influence the MSW systems.
The main difference that has influenced Japan’s MSW system is how much less usable land than the US does. Without extra space, they can’t use landfills as easily. In lecture, we learned about how you can’t put a building on top of a landfill because of how the landfill sinks over time. People also don’t want to live near a landfill, so Japan can’t waste the space on top of or around a landfill. They do have some landfills, like the one we visited in Sakai Solar Power Station. They built a solar farm on top of the landfill because solar panels are light and it’s ok if they sink.
In both countries it is illegal to cross a crosswalk when the light is red. Japanese people, for the most part, wait at the red light even if there are no cars. In the US, if you can cross without getting run over, you will. Japanese people tend to follow the formal and informal institutions. Americans like to defy the system and be individual. I think that is part of the reason for Japan’s MSW system. The Japanese will take the time to sort their trash before throwing it away. Having pre-sorted trash makes waste management easier and they can incinerate waste more effectively and recycle more products.
Since Japan is an island country, they have a lot of access to the ocean. They can use waste to build more land, something they need. The US doesn’t really have a need for more land, nor is the ocean a big part of our daily life (depends on where you live). We also have stricter regulations on what we put into the water. Japan uses their incinerated waste when they build the islands. The US doesn’t have many incinerators to make these islands anyway. Incinerators have a bad reputation in the US even though they have been proven to work in other countries.
Both countries have MSW systems that are different but come from each countries values and resources. Both systems could improve, but they function well in their own ways.
Different societies have different means of dealing with waste disposal. In America, waste is primarily sent to landfills after being processed. In Japan, however, incinerators are used much more commonly to dispose of waste material. Japan has almost 2,000 incineration plants, compared with fewer than 100 in America. There are several reasons as to why Japan and America have radically different waste disposal systems, primarily related to the geographic and cultural differences between the nations.
A number of covered bags of contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture. The large amount of otherwise unusable land in the area makes landfills more useful.
One of the main differences between the two nations is the amount of free land available. In America, there is a good deal of open space available, making landfills much more lucrative. In Japan, however, the small amount of land available relative to the large population means that landfills are difficult to set up. Conversely, however, this makes land reclamation programs, in which trash is piled up in specified locations on the coast to create more land, much more useful. The solar power plant that we visited was built on reclaimed land. Land reclamation is not popular in America due to the large amount of available land compared to existing coastline. Incinerators are not used widely in America as they have relatively few advantages over landfills, except in areas where landfills cannot be situated, such as Florida.
Japan's high population density and small amount of available land area means that incinerators are usally preferable to landfills.
The other main reason for the differences in waste disposal systems between America and Japan are cultural differences. The democratic nature of America means that if a local government intends to install an incineration plant, the local community will likely protest this idea. While Japan is similarly democratic, the lack of public protests against these projects means that they are more likely to go through. America’s culture also looks towards using natural gases for energy generation, which can be harnessed from methane production from landfills. Japan, however, uses a variety of energy sources, such as from energy regeneration facilities, meaning that incinerators are more widely accepted. Overall, waste management differs in countries due to a variety of cultural and environmental factors, meaning that there is no singular sustainable method of disposing of waste. Incineration methods may not work in less advanced societies, as advanced technologies are needed to limit the production of greenhouse gases; on the other hand, some countries may not have the land area necessary for landfills.
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.
To really understand the sustainability of a country, you have to dig deep into the profile of the country. Every country has a different definition of “trash,” produces a different amount of trash on average, and responds to trash differently. Japan incinerates most of their waste and landfills the combusted products. America incinerates a small portion of the waste but landfills a large majority of it as it was discarded. There are several explanations as to why these two countries developed their respective waste management processes.
A major difference which contributes to the divergent garbage response is the geography of the countries. Japan is a very small country compared to the U.S. On top of that, most of the country is mountainous, making the livable and workable areas of the country extremely densely inhabited. They cannot simply bury their trash; first they must make it as compact as possible by incineration. The product of incineration must then be stored somewhere; the lack of space in Japan has forced them to look outward for solutions. Japan landfills the products of incineration in the ocean, making new islands of trash covered in soil. The landfills are then converted into recreational fields and solar panel parks. In America, open space is much more prevalent. There are miles of uninhabited land throughout the U.S., making large landfills much more common. Rather than incinerating the trash first, some American garbage is just thrown into the ground and buried. Most American landfills are built up above the ground, creating a mountain of trash. Some of these mountains are converted into fields and solar parks, but this is difficult because mountain landfills shift a great deal over time, potentially causing damage to anything built above them. Geography plays a key role in waste management, but it is not the only deciding factor on garbage disposal processes.
Another key aspect in waste management systems is the culture of a country. According to the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions analysis, Japan is much more long-term oriented than America. Burning garbage to reduce the size and creating new islands to make usable space is a solution which does not outright burden future generations. However, America’s mountains of garbage are a much more “out of sight, out of mind” solution. One day, Americans will run out of space or resources and will have to face the piles of trash stored throughout the country. America is also more of a business culture and has turned trash disposal into a very profitable enterprise. Private companies own landfills and charge heavily to dispose of the public’s garbage. While landfills are profitable, it is unlikely the U.S. will stop using them. America is also a convenience culture; most Americans do not separate their household garbage because it is an extra hassle and the government does not enforce any waste sorting of residential trash. Japanese meticulously separate their trash, which makes incineration much easier and more efficient. Getting Americans to sort garbage is a tall order, and not likely to happen without government policy.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods of trash disposal. Incineration reduces the amount of space waste requires, but needs advanced technology to reduce pollutants, significant energy to burn the waste, and money to pay for that technology and energy. Landfills are a fast and easy solution but require a lot of space. America has space and values convenience, making landfills an attractive, although not necessarily sustainable, solution. Japan is a collectivist culture, always working for the good of the group. This means planning for the long-term, and separating trash. They place a much higher priority on reusing products rather than tossing them out, valuing everything they have. The policies implemented in a country also affect how trash is viewed and handled. America made waste management policies until the 80’s and 90’s when the policies dropped off. Japan continued making waste management policies through the 2000’s and today.
Every country produces trash and every country must find a solution that fits their environmental and cultural profile. Just because waste disposal practices differ from one country to another, it does not inherently mean one is better than the other. The key is finding a waste management solution which works for the individual country, and then making that unique solution sustainable.
The methods that Japan and the United States employ to dispose of Material Solid Waste (MSW) are starkly different. Japan is adamant about recycling practices and burns other garbage as its main disposal method of MSW. In this process, they reduce the amount of physical space their solid waste takes up while also recapturing some of the lost energy from the garbage by generating electricity from the burning process. There are many factors, both cultural and environmental, that can explain why Japan may prefer to implement these methods.
First, Japan is a small country with an even smaller amount of livable land. So, they just don’t have the physical space to use landfills in the same way that the US does. This is probably a big contributor to Japan’s choice to burn their trash instead of putting it in a landfill, because they don’t want to set aside valuable land area to use as landfills. Another contributor to why Japan may choose to burn their trash is their cultural value of cleanliness and tidiness. While being in Japan, I have noticed that even busy city streets are kept quite clean, and I hardly ever see someone looking unkempt. I believe that this contributed to Japan’s choice in the late 1900’s to promote burning garbage over using landfills. When garbage is burned, there is still residual material left over, but it is much smaller than the original mass of garbage that was burned. From a Japanese cultural perspective, I can imagine it would be more appealing to have a smaller amount of leftover waste to deal with than having piles of garbage taking up space, because it can be more easily controlled and contained.
While being in Japan, I have also noticed that people love to package things neatly and in many layers. If I go to a convenience store, I may order a bag of chocolates, which they will put inside another bag when I check out. Then, when I open the bag of chocolates, I will find that each individual chocolate is wrapped in a small plastic bag, as well. This convenience store experience says a lot about Japanese people’s preference to have everything neat and tidy, which, in my opinion, contributed greatly to Japan’s decision to move toward burning trash over putting it in landfills, because although trash is contained when in a landfill, the idea of a landfill for everyday people is much messier than the idea of burning trash. However, this cultural preference to package everything up also generates enormous amounts of plastic waste. This over-packaging of goods is probably a major contributor to why Japan recycles plastics so carefully – because they just use so much of it.
In the US, waste management is a completely different story. In the late 1900’s, when Japan decided to move toward burning trash, the US decided to move toward using landfills. In the US today, there are only 71 incinerators, while there are thousands of landfills. Considering the environment of the US, this make sense since the US has massive amounts of land area, so the fact that landfills take up space is not an issue for the US. There are also cultural reasons why the US landfills so heavily and burns so little trash. One of these reasons is that Americans tend to be very focused on the present and not very future-oriented. So, we often look for the easiest, cheapest solutions for right now. Using landfills is less expensive and takes less energy than burning trash does. So, even though landfills take up space, use a lot of plastic and clay, can put groundwater at risk if not properly maintained, and require garbage to be transported long distances, we still prefer this option to burning garbage in large part because it is cheaper.
Another cultural contributor to why we prefer landfills is that in the US, we are very individualistic. We think about ourselves and what is best for us, rather than what is best for everyone. So, the idea that someone will pick up your garbage and take it somewhere else to get rid of it is appealing, even if that somewhere else is near another person’s house. We like the idea of never having to see or deal with our trash again, and don’t like the idea of having an incinerator near our house or in our town, even if they are completely safe and are in a part of town we’d never notice.
These aspects of American culture – thinking of the now and thinking of ourselves – also contribute to why we aren’t very good at recycling. Recycling costs money and takes time, and we would rather just throw everything in a landfill than worry about sorting through what should and shouldn’t be recycled. As a result, we let a lot of materials that could easily be recycled just go straight into the landfill, which is a waste of raw materials and takes up more space in the landfills themselves.
Japan and the US employ very different methods when dealing with MSW. While they are almost complete opposite methods, in both cases, we can see how great of an impact cultural and environmental factors have on ways different countries deal with MSW.
One of the more blatant lifestyle differences that I noticed upon arriving to Japan was the way they categorize common trash, or Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). The English translation on every trash can here denotes itself as a "combustible" or "incombustible." Instead of the USA, where a majority of our trash goes to landfills, in Japan, a majority of MSW is incinerated.
As an American, this took a second to adjust to. But now that I'm in an apartment where it's very important to separate our trash correctly, I've learned that:
Combustibles are food waste, and anything else denotedly burnable (such as paper)
Incombustibles: these are commonly divided up in the following two categories
Cans and bottles
Plastic packaging and trays
It's seemingly more complex than our system in the US, where the bright blue bins denote recycling. But the rules of recycling in the US are non-specific and are unclear to many people. I found this out many times in my high school's Environmental Club, where we would take out recycling bags that were full of sticky soda, food waste and still see piles of paper in the trash cans next to them.
From my experiences so far, it seems like there is much more responsibility taken on a personal level to throw away trash correctly. Combustibles and incombustibles taken for disposal appear to be much neater than the ones I've seen in the US.
(garbage to be picked up in New York City)
(recycling to be picked up in Japan)
As a result, recycling is a significant part of the waste stream in Japan. Japan's recycling rate for beverage cans is said to be 87.4% (Global Recycling Magazine). And Japanese total waste volume in the 2014 fiscal year was 437 Mt (million tons), with 89.9% industrial waste and 10.1% municipal waste. The amount of recirculated resources derived from this waste was 50.6% of the total waste volume. ("Current State and Trend of Waste and Recycling in Japan"). Efforts as seen in the data to separate things that can be recycled from combustibles allows for resource conservation and cleaner incineration processes.
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.
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.
Public waste is handled different between in the U.S. and Japan. Overall, Japan does a much better job in managing their solid waste than the U.S.. Especially in recycling and properly separating different kinds of waste, U.S. falls behind Japan.
In public places regarding trash, the U.S. has trash cans everywhere, whereas Japan has one trash can/unit almost every mile. In Japan though, despite the lack of trash cans, more times than not the Japanese trash cans are split into four bins: one for combustible trash, one for incombustibles, one for plastic, and one for aluminum cans. This promotes good and more recycle-friendly trash clearly to the public by separating it before the trash makes its way to the dump in order for the trash to be disposed of in the most sustainable and efficient way possible. This is not the case in America as you can find trash cans everywhere that are often overstuffed containing multiple kinds of trash with little care of the upkeep of the disposal methods of trash. Japan definitely wins in management of public trash, and this proves beneficial in the long run.
These methods of throwing out trash makes the availability of recycling and reusing trash much more convenient. In the U.S., since all kinds of trash are stuffed into trash cans every day, it’s hard to discern and separate trash at disposal companies and dumps to even be able to recycle or reuse any of the materials. Japan has a system where, as mentioned before, the trash is already separated by civilians, allowing disposal companies to use the trash to its potential, mainly in how it can possibly be used again. Recycling also helps with the waste stream in Japan by decreasing the overall quantity of waste stored or burned, encouraging citizens to produce as least amount of trash as possible. These practices put the U.S. to shame in sustainability standards, as Japan is on a much more positive track in better waste management in the future based on every day, public management/recycling methods provided to the public each day, as opposed to the less aware and less motivated culture in the United States, referencing waste management.
At this time, the U.S. would have to pull a lot of strings and implement a lot of policy in order to be on the same level of efficiency in waste management as Japan. However, I have hope in the U.S., and possibly if I get the chance, I can bring some of these practices I have observed in Japan back to the U.S. someday to get America on a better track towards increased sustainability in waste management and improved living standards for future generations.
Waste management in the U.S. and Japan are very different in many ways. In the general disposal, storage, and attitude of waste, the countries vary in their practices greatly, affecting the overall well being of the country and its future in how trash affects the coming generations
One difference is the set up in public places regarding trash. Contrary to the U.S. in having trash cans everywhere, Japan don’t have as many trash cans. However, most of the time, U.S. trash cans are just for general trash and often overflow because of the amount of all types of trash cans stuffed into the cans. In Japan, despite the low quantity of trash cans, each trash can usually has four different types of bins there; one for combustible trash, one for incombustibles, one for plastic, and one for aluminum cans. So, in spite of the difference of number of trash cans between the U.S. and Japan, Japan definitely trumps the U.S. in efficient separation of trash to recycle and dispose of it properly.
Another difference is the storage/elimination of waste between the two countries. In waste management, there are two main ways of eliminating waste (besides recycling and reusing obviously), incineration and storing it in a landfill. In the U.S. storing in a landfill is the more common method as one, we have the land area to have landfills, and two, in the U.S. buying land is cheaper than in Japan because again we have more of it, so it is sometimes cheaper than incinerating waste. In a complete 180, in Japan, incineration is the most used method of destroying waste. Japan has less habitable land than the U.S. making large landfills not really an option, leaving incineration as the only option. For both methods, they have their pros and cons because while they both can generate usable energy to use, they can also pollute the environment around them if not properly checked and maintained.
Overall, Japan still reigns king over the U.S. in waste management and overall sustainability. Another big problem in the U.S. that people have trouble accepting is just that the U.S.’s attitude about waste management is just not as productive as Japan. We are lazy with our trash and not taking into account of where the trash goes, what happens to it, or how it affects the environment. Meanwhile, Japan is recycling on the daily and looking up more ways to dispose of trash more sustainably. If the U.S. can get in the right mindset when talking about how to make waste management better, then I believe we can also be on the same level as Japan in our sustainability and efficiency.
One of the first noticeable differences from the US that I saw after coming to Japan was the public waste disposal system. Trash cans are not as widely present as in America, but they are always kept tidy and neat. More importantly, almost every waste disposal system has at least 3 sections: one for bottles and cans, one for plastic products, and one for combustible products. Despite these waste disposal locations not being as prevalent as in the US, Japan’s culture of group harmony means that nobody litters but holds onto their garbage until they are able to dispose of it properly. While this is sometimes a hassle, it is an improvement to having streets littered with trash as can be seen in many places throughout the US. Also, all trash receptacles are clearly labeled in multiple languages about which trash goes in which receptacle, so it is generally straightforward as to what type of trash goes where.
The waste disposal system also differs after consumers throw away their garbage. Since Japan is a small island nation, there is little space for landfills and therefore waste products are generally treated before being disposed at landfill sites. These landfills also can be repurposed, as we saw at the solar power plant (pictured below). Prior to the 1970s, waste material in Japan was dumped into anaerobic landfills or burned, producing large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas. More recently, Japan has used semi-aerobic landfills, which supplies air to landfills underground, which reduces flammable gas production while stimulating the decomposition of organic matter, leading to a faster stabilization of the landfill.
An important aspect of the waste management system is to keep different types of waste material separate, as different waste products need to be treated differently before disposal or reuse. In the recycling process, plastic bottles are collected separately, initially from consumers or local municipalities. Afterwards, specific corporations receive recycled waste to create recycled products. At these recycling businesses, recycled products are cleaned, and bottle caps and labels are removed. After sorting, the plastics undergo many processes, being crushed into flakes, and transformed into one of many different forms, such as resins or fibers. The differing disposal methods of materials in Japan require that consumers, rather than companies, do all the sorting of the main types of waste material, which considerably decreases the stress on the waste management companies. The willingness of Japanese consumers to properly dispose of their waste materials is a major part of the functionality of the country’s waste disposal system, which is something that we do not see as extensively in the US. With certain cultural or institutional changes, perhaps US consumers would be more willing to sort and properly dispose of waste material.