Monday, February 27, 2012

Time To Take Out The Trash

One of the most difficult things we had to adjust to when we moved to Japan was the sorting of our trash.  I know what you're thinking - how hard can it really be?  Well, move to Japan and you will find out firsthand.  Rich moved into our house a few days before I arrived in Japan, so he was the one that got all the paperwork and explanation(s) from our rental agent on everything, including the garbage system. The thoughtful husband that he is, he also made a trip to Homes (our version of Home Depot + Target) and got Japanese trash cans and trash bags - although I later got an earful about how it took him forever to decide which trash cans and what size bags to buy.  In his defense, shopping for garbage bags is overwhelming the first time because there are so many choices -  i.e., what size and with or without handle (not really sure why anyone would get ones without handles though, they make it so much easier).

Anyway, I had barely walked through the door to our new home when Rich handed me a stack of papers explaining the trash system and said, "Enjoy!"  You can't really tell from the pictures, but the colored pamphlet is 6 pages long and is quite user friendly since it's in color and has pictures.  The other one, which is 5 pages long (front and back), is more comprehensive in listing items and identifying which category they belong to.  I studied both of them very carefully and thought to myself, this is going to be interesting!

Taking the trash out in Japan is a 4 sometimes 5 day a week chore, as our city has established five general categories which our trash must be sorted into and put out on the appropriate day (only a few of which overlap days).  Here is the schedule that we follow:
  1. Burnables (food scraps, some paper products) - picked up on Mondays and Thursdays
  2. Group resources (cardboard, clothes, magazines, toilet paper rolls) - picked up the 2nd and 4th Monday of every month
  3. Plastics - picked up on Tuesdays
  4. Nonburnables - picked upon the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month
  5. Cans, bottles and PET bottles - picked up on Fridays
After living in The Bay Area, I am BIG on recycling and I get why Japan has this system.  But having just moved from a state where they only started curbside recycling in 2007, sorting the trash into 5 bins takes getting used to.  Also, since different trash gets picked up on different days and you place your trash either under a mesh net or in a steel cage, you can only put it out the morning of pickup.  That's right, there's no putting your smelly trash in your own bin; you have to wait till the right day to put it out.  You also can't throw away large items (you have to call the city to pick it up) and you can't throw batteries away, you have to take them to a store and put it in a collection box.  As I type this, I realize that at least you don't see old couches, dirty mattresses or other junk furniture lying on the sidewalk like you do in some neighborhoods in the U.S. (I won't name names, but you know who you are). 

You're probably wondering why you should care about sorting your trash properly. You don't have to, but if you don't, the trash collectors will leave your trash there with a preprinted Yellow Note identifying your trash violation.  How do they know if you've gotten it right or not?  Everyone is required to use clear (or opaque) trash bags which clearly show what's in the bag - talk about no privacy.  Having heard of how strict the Japanese are about trash and living in constant fear of the shame of getting a Yellow Note,  I probably checked the pamphlets any time I had to throw something away for the entire first month we lived here.

As the months passed with no incident, I think we got a little complacent with our trash sorting habits.  Well, after living here for 7 months without any issues, we got our first Yellow Notice the other day. And apparently they knew the violators were not Japanese because as you can see, the Yellow Note is in English not in Japanese like the others we have seen.  It seems we have been incorrectly putting non-PET water bottles in the plastics when they should be going in the cans, bottles and PET group.  Luckily this wasn't such a hard violation to correct (I say this, but Rich is the one that had to go through the bag and re-sort it) but the crappy thing is that we had to keep it for another week.  With the exception of this incident, I'm pleased to say that we've pretty much gotten the hang of the sorting and hey, I may even miss it when we leave here.

1 comment:

Annie Kamiya said...

BEST POST, Shanners! I read it to Curt because I knew it would resonate with him...AS I ALREADY DO ALL THOSE THINGS!

When you said "clear trash bags," I told him "Brilliant idea!"

You really had me at the 6 page instruction manual on recycling. <3!

I will fit in perfectly when I visit. = )P