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“Small things add up”: The Japanese town leading the zero-waste charge

Kamikatsu had a goal of zero waste by 2020. It didn’t quite get there but striving for the ambitious target has delivered pioneering results.

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Image: Zero Waste Academy
Image: Zero Waste Academy

Kamikatsu is on track to become Japan’s first zero-waste municipality.

 

The small town, situated near the Shikoku Mountains 40km from Tokushima City, was the first in the country to make a ‘Zero Waste Declaration’ in 2003 – with the aim of achieving this by 2020. Its waste reduction push began as early as the 1990s, though, with a household survey and the development of the Kamikatsu Recycle Town Plan.

 

As the new decade gets underway, Kamikatsu hasn’t quite reached the 100 per cent target today, the municipality has achieved an 81 per cent recycling rate. A Zero Waste goal goes beyond recycling, which is prioritised after waste prevention, product redesign and reuse.

 

However, setting visionary goals, rather than easily achievable ones which can be ticked off, seems to be integral to the impressive results.

 

Setting visionary goals, rather than easily achievable ones which can be ticked off, seems to be integral to the impressive results.

 

Akira Sakano, chairperson of the Zero Waste Academy, which co-ordinates Kamikatsu’s efforts and shares best practices around the world, told SmartCitiesWorld: “I believe that it is important to aim towards a higher target, similar to how the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are defined. With higher goals, one can exhaustively identify and acknowledge necessary steps, issues and stakeholders to achieve them.”

 

Slashing waste

 

Kamikatsu has encouraged its 1,500 residents to recycle and reuse their waste, as well as not to buy or use products that may end up as waste. It has also pushed manufacturers to produce products that can be easily and safely disposed of to stop waste generation at its origin.

 

Sakano pinpointed three challenging areas which still need collective attention if the 100 per cent goal is to be achieved. Certain products, such as sanitary items, are currently designed for single-use and therefore can’t be recycled, she said. Some products don’t yet fit into any waste segregation categories and others are technically recyclable but aren’t today due to high costs and lack of after-market.

 

She commented: “The zero-waste initiative goal is not only limited to achieving 100 per cent recyclability but also waste minimisation. Kamikatsu may have achieved 80 per cent recyclability, yet we need to keep in mind that single-use plastics are heavily utilised.”

 

"The zero-waste goal is not only limited to achieving 100 per cent recyclability but also waste minimisation. Kamikatsu may have achieved 80 per cent recyclability, yet we need to keep in mind that single-use plastics are heavily utilised."

 

Several other cities in Japan and worldwide now have ambitious waste goals. New York is aiming to send zero waste to landfill by 2030. In 2018, it was one of 23 cities and regions that signed C40 Cities’ Advancing Towards Zero Waste Declaration. They pledged to cut the amount of waste generated by each citizen 15 per cent by 2030, reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and incineration by 50 per cent and increase the diversion rate to 70 per cent by 2030. Signatory cities and regions include Auckland, Catalonia, Copenhagen, Dubai, London, Milan, Montreal, Navarra, Newburyport, Paris, Philadelphia, Portland, Rotterdam, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington DC.

 

While Kamikatsu may be much smaller than these cities, the actions it has taken and the results it has achieved can inspire initiatives elsewhere, particularly with regard to citizen engagement and information-sharing to raise awareness, as well as the idea that even seemingly small actions contribute to the larger goal.

 

"One of our accomplishments is establishing a zero-waste community model,” said Sakano. “Therefore we believe that our learning is transferable from the local to the global level. When we transition our Kamikatsu model to other communities, we need to customise accordingly to fit the narrative of the target community.”

 

Citizens and businesses on board

 

 

In 2016, the Zero Waste Academy launched its Zero Waste Accreditation System. The system certifies shops and encourages customers to buy from accredited businesses.

 

Efforts made by stores to reduce waste through segregation and when procuring ingredients are promoted clearly to customers and businesses are regularly offered new ideas on environmentally friendly products and methods to reduce waste further.

 

Kamikatsu also runs a waste-sorting centre for citizens. Non-organic waste is washed at home and brought to the Hibigatani Waste and Resource Station, where it is segregated by residents. The Station is open almost every day of the year.

Hibigatani Waste and Resource Station. Image: Zero Waste Academy
Hibigatani Waste and Resource Station. Image: Zero Waste Academy

A re-use shop allows residents to share unwanted clothing, tableware and other items. Kamikatsu citizens can bring in items while anyone can take home what they find useful. Approximately 90 per cent of goods at the shop are re-used every year, monitored through weighing items.

 

Elsewhere, around 20 craftspeople (“mainly local grannies”, according to a report from the Zero Waste Academy) at the Kuru-kuru Craft Centre in the Kamikatsu Care Prevention Centre, next to the Hibigatani Waste and Resource Station, re-work clothing, fabrics and carp streamers into items to sell within and beyond Kamikatsu.

 

Kamikatsu's re-use shop. Image: Zero Waste Academy
Kamikatsu's re-use shop. Image: Zero Waste Academy

Rewards

 

There is also a tableware rental scheme to reduce single-use items at festivals and events. Around 8,300 pieces of tableware are borrowed every year.

 

Rewards are also used to encourage citizens to participate in the zero-waste drive. The Recyclable Paper Point Campaign began in 2014 to promote paper segregation to reduce incineration waste. Residents collect points via a card whenever they bring certain categories of paper waste for collection. For example, they receive one point for a paper bag full of scrap paper. These points can then be exchanged for merchandise – five points can be traded in for a roll of toilet paper or 10 points for a roll of paper string. A draw is also held once per month, and 10 winners are presented with gift coupons which they can spend in Kamikatsu.

 

“Creating these systems enables local residents to have fun and enjoy the merits of participating in waste segregation and zero-waste measures,” said Sakano. In 2017, the campaign was expanded to more types of waste and merchandise.

 

It was also renamed “Chiritsumo”, which means “small things add up to make a big difference”.

 

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