Page last updated at 14:20 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 15:20 UK

Living in a world without waste

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

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The Japanese island where the rubbish collectors never come

The Mayor of Kamikatsu, a small community in the hills of eastern Japan, has urged politicians around the world to follow his lead and make their towns "Zero Waste".

He told BBC News that all communities could learn from Kamikatsu, where residents have to compost all their food waste and sort other rubbish into 34 different categories.

Residents say the scheme has prompted them to cut down on waste generally and food waste in particular.

If the policy spread, it would reduce the amount of food waste, and so take some of the pressure off high food prices.

Kamikatsu may be a backwater in the wooded hills and rice terraces of south-eastern Japan but it's become a world leader on waste policy.

There are no waste collections from households at all. People have to take full responsibility for everything they throw away.

It's a good idea to send things back to the earth so I support it
Hatsue Katayama

Kitchen waste has to be composted. Non-food waste is processed either in local shops which accept goods for recycling or in Kamikatsu's Zero Waste Centre. There, people have to sort their unwanted items into 34 different boxes for recycling.

Residents have to sort plastic bottles (used for fruit juice, for example) from PET (polyethylene teraphthalate) bottles (used for mineral water) because PET is more valuable when it is separated out.

There are specific boxes for pens, razors and the sort of Styrofoam trays on which meat is often purchased. These have to be washed and dried.

The scheme was adopted when councillors realised it was much cheaper than incineration - even if the incinerator was used to generate power.

Winning idea

Many locals are enthusiastic participants. Take Kikue Nii, who strips labels off bottles then washes and dries them before sending them to recycling.

She takes her other everyday waste to the local shop where she receives a lottery ticket in return for a bag of cans.

Recyling at a local shop
The community uses incentives to encourage recylcing

She has won a 5 food voucher four times. It's not a huge amount but it's better than nothing.

She is also a big fan of composting.

"I think I produce less waste because I have to compost it," she says.

"When I can't use the whole vegetable or meat, I try to cook it again with wine and so on. It makes a very good soup. Everyone should have a composter if they can."

Her neighbours Fumikazu Katayama and his wife Hatsue are ardent composters, too.

Hatsue says: "I have to do it every day; it's certainty a bit of work. But it's a good idea to send things back to the earth so I support it. I just do it naturally now; it's part of the routine."

The Katayamas take the rest of their waste to the Zero Waste Centre for sorting - carrying the waste bag between them.

Global question

Questions remain about the scheme. Some of the composters are boosted by electric power, which creates greenhouse gas emissions.

And it's possible that the savings in greenhouse gases from recycling are negated by the need for people to drive to the Zero Waste Centre.

Yoko Kyoi  converts a silk kimono belt into a bag
Old curtains or kimonos are expertly converted into bags

Natsuko Matsuoka, one of the originators of the centre, disagrees - she says people generally tie in the journey with a weekly shopping trip.

A poll showed that although the Zero Waste policy has many admirers, 40% of people weren't happy about all aspects of the scheme.

The Mayor Kasamatsu Kasuichi is undeterred: "We should consider what is right and what is wrong, and I believe it is wrong to send a truck to collect the waste and burn it.

"That is bad for the environment. So whether I get support or not, I believe I should persuade people to support my policy."

Now he invites other politicians around the world to follow suit.


SEE ALSO
World Without Waste
06 Dec 05 |  Documentary Archive
'Zero waste' target for Scotland
24 Jan 08 |  Scotland
Recycling around the world
25 Jun 05 |  Europe
Waste mountain 'must be tackled'
24 Jun 05 |  Science/Nature
Is going green still worthwhile?
19 May 05 |  Science/Nature


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