The very idea of a zero waste town is hard for some people to fathom. The reality is that it’s happening at this very moment in a small village located in southwestern Japan called Kamikatsu. Residents of this town are incredibly committed to the zero waste program.
The residents of Kamikatsu understand the importance of separating paper, plastic and trash. Despite the fact that it’s time-consuming and isn’t something most people want to do, they have developed a mindset that being wasteful is not an option. Their waste reduction endeavors are quite extensive and include separating garbage into more than 30 categories of waste. Kamikatsu residents have spaces for steel cans, aluminum cans, documents, paper cartons and just about anything else that’s discarded. This all started back in 2003 when the city decided to implement a zero waste program that was more rigorous than anyone ever imagined it would be.
The Problem with Waste
Before implementing the zero waste program, the trash from the residents of Kamikatsu would be incinerated. At some point, city officials realized that this was harmful to the environment. That’s because incinerators are known to emit toxins and greenhouse gases that not only impact the environment, but also damage the food supply. Addressing this issue became a priority for city officials. It’s difficult for people to imagine a zero waste town unless you’ve seen it and experienced it. This was no different for the residents of Kamikatsu. They too had a difficult time when the program was first launched because it required a great deal of sorting, which is time-consuming.
The zero waste program requires residents to bring their trash to the local sorting center. Part of the process is washing many of the items. The sorting process starts in the home of residents before everything is taken to the sorting center. The job of the sorting center is to make sure everything is put in the right bin. Although it started out as a slow process, now it’s like second nature because everyone knows exactly what to do.
Reusing Discarded Items
One of the programs is a store that allows residents to leave furniture, clothing and other household items that they no longer want. They are then able to exchange these items for something needed or wanted. This is a key component of the zero waste program and one of the reasons why it’s a success. There’s also a factory that uses items that have been discarded to make different products. The items that can be made are wide-ranging, such as clothing and toys for children. What’s made with discarded products don’t necessarily look like they’ve been recycled because of different techniques used.
What’s on the Horizon?
An amazing 80% of the garbage produced by the residents of Kamikatsu is recycled, composted or reused. That means there is only a small amount left that would be sent to a landfill. City officials anticipate that the town will be able to reach zero waste this year. It hasn’t been without a lot of effort and commitment by all of the town’s residents.
What’s happening in Kamikatsu is something that the world is paying attention to because the amount of trash produced around the glow is tremendous. Unfortunately, the rate in which trash is being produced is accelerating and it’s estimated that human beings will produce several pounds of waste daily in the near future. This is a rate that’s double the amount of waste produced today, which is precisely why commitment to zero waste is necessary.
It’s worth noting that the United States produces twice as much waste as Japan and this problem isn’t changing anytime soon, it’s only getting worse. Fortunately, some city officials are at least aware of the expanding waste issue and have considered ways to mitigate the problem. In fact, some authorities are genuinely interested in decreasing the waste footprint in their town or region.
As with anything in life, change doesn’t happen overnight and it usually starts with a shift in thinking. This is the reason why we can all look to Kamikatsu for inspiration and guidance on how to make it happen.