Saturday, June 18, 2011
4th August, 2010 - Well this really was supposed to be a quick post... about a plain old big building I saw... but the post has sort of expanded a bit. During my first few trips to Sapporo, I'd always noticed these rather large imposing buildings dotted around the city... and they always looked just a little odd to me. It's embarrassing, but I always thought it looked like a power station... of course, now the whole world knows what a Japanese nuclear power station looks like... but I had both an active imagination and not much sense.
And eventually I just had to ask my wife, what is that building?.. to which she replied, "oh that, it's just a recycling building"... hmmm, that was a little disappointing, but then again, in this day and age, re-cycling should be interesting to us all.
Indeed, Sapporo like many cities in Japan has gone re-cycling crazy. Not only do you have to pay for each bag of rubbish you throw away, but you have to separate your waste into combustible (paper), non-combustible, PET plastics, cans. Newspaper recycling occurs periodically with large trucks driving around the city blaring announcements for people to bring out their paper. This all goes towards acheiving 3R concept of reduce, reuse and recycle. Indeed, there are towns in Japan moving to a zero waste concept, where they separate their household waste into 34 different bin types. Now that's over-kill if you ask me. Back home in Adelaide, we just separate out into rubbish, recyclables and green-waste - and in some places in Adelaide the recyclables are put in the same (separated) bin as the normal waste!
Now for those travelling to Japan, here's a few signs that you might see...
(thanks to wikipedia)
And of course, most of the public bins also require you to separate your waste into cans (カン), bottles or bin (ビン), and PET bottles (ペットボトル) as shown below. However, if you're observant, you might see that somehow the cans and bottles on the left have been swapped. Just goes to show that no system is perfect.
The other signs that you're likely to see are combustible or moeru gomi (もえるゴミ) on the left, and non-combustible or moenai gomi (もえないゴミ) on the right.
Indeed, here's some rough figures (a little dated now) on Sapporo's municipal solid waste (MSW) situation:
(Source: Waste Management World)
It shows an interesting thing, only 20% of waste back in 2003 ended up in land-fill, but a staggering ~70% was incinerated. I guess it means less land-fill, which is a good thing... but...
And that's where things get a bit murky... as I'm sure that "recycling" in the context normally means the re-using of materials, e.g. recycled paper and cardboard. Incineration is considered recycling here in terms of waste recycled into energy. Waste-to-energy conversion through incineration is generally considered an undesirable method today, especially due to the potential pollution problems that it can cause, such as the release of dioxins into the air.
Overall the move to a greener, more sustainable society seems to be occurring. Indeed, Japan generates far less waste than most, at around 400 kg per person per year.
(Source : OECD data)
And interestingly this relatively low per capita rate also extends to CO2 emissions, with Japan lying quite competitively for what is a significantly industrialised country. Of course these things are not necessarily linked. What is perhaps more scary (for me personally) is just how bad a polluter Australia is on a per capita basis... thankfully we've only got a population of about 22 million (compared to China's population of 1.3 billion).
The Japanese are good adopters of new concepts - and have taken to recycling seriously. Recycling is certainly a big business in Japan today... but it's still a complicated affair with Japan developing concepts of Eco-towns which represent huge waste recycling centres for the conversion of waste. For all the acceptance of the need to recycle, it's hard to know how much consideration is really given to what happens to all that waste once it leaves the front door. Then again, given that they produce almost half (per capita) of what we do here in Australia, I'd say they're doing something right.
So we get back to that strange building I photographed way back at the start of this post. It turns out that we were both right. The odd building may be "recycling" but it's also a power station of sorts. But as with many things in Japan, it's never quite so simple...