Ten zero-waste cities: Kamikatsu, Japan’s zero-waste miracle town

Japan’s first municipality to make a ‘zero waste declaration’, the town is well on its way to becoming fully zero-waste by 2020

By Sonia Henam, Swati Singh Sambyal
Published: Thursday 26 December 2019
Ten zero-waste cities: Kamikatsu, Japan’s zero-waste miracle town
Photo: Zero Waste Academy, Japan Photo: Zero Waste Academy, Japan

Kamikatsu, a small town situated approximately 40 kilometres from Tokushima city in the mountains of Shikoku island in Japan, is fast moving towards becoming the country’s first fully zero-waste habitation by next year.

The town was the first municipality in the country to make a ’Zero Waste Declaration’ way back in 2003. However, its journey towards becoming free of waste started even earlier.

The city encouraged residents to recycle and reuse their waste, not to purchase or use products that might end up as waste, and requested manufacturers to produce products that could easily and safely be disposed of to stop waste generation at its origin.

In 1995, subsidies for the purchase of electric composters and compost bins made it possible for home-generated organic waste to be composted. The subsidies were worth ¥ 42,000 ($385) and ¥ 52,000 ($476).

Non-organic waste in Kamikatsu was (and is) washed at home and brought to the Hibigatani Waste and Resource Station in the town, where it was further segregated by local residents themselves.

The Station is open every day from 7:30 AM to 2:00 PM, with the exception of three days during the New Year holidays. Local residents may bring waste at any time during the business hours. Staff on site assists the locals with segregation.

From becoming a hub for social interaction among residents, the waste collection centre later expanded to include a circular or kuru-kuru shop (kuru-kuru meaning circular in Japanese), where locals dropped items they no longer needed and take away any of the items that were also dropped off there for free.

In 2016, approximately 15 tonnes of items were brought in and approximately 15 tonnes of items were taken home as well. Approximately 80-90 per cent is being re-used every year.

Zero waste accreditation system

In 2016, Kamikatsu also developed a ‘Zero Waste Accreditation System’ to further control waste generation. This system certifies stores, particularly food and beverage establishments, to heighten zero waste consciousness and encourages customers to reward certified businesses with their patronage.

Efforts made by stores to reduce waste through segregation and when procuring ingredients are made visible to customers. Proposals for the use of environmentally-friendly products and methods to reduce waste are made to businesses to further encourage zero waste efforts.

The aim of this system is to increase the number of businesses (retailers, food and beverage establishments, inns, etc) participating in the promotion of zero waste to spread the programme globally.

In 2014, Kamikatsu also started a Chiritsumo Point Campaign to promote paper segregation to reduce incineration waste.

In 2016, the municipality achieved an 81 per cent recycle rate.

Following the implementation of the Zero Waste program, Kamikatsu has saved a third of its former costs from waste incineration, according to a report.

Aside from the town’s annual waste management cost, which is about ¥6 million ($55,764.00), the programme also highlighted the economic benefits of recycling in the community. Recycling earns the town ¥1 million ($27,882.00), which technically, is more cost-efficient than incinerating, and selling waste like paper or metals and helps offset Kamikatsu’s waste disposal costs.

As for the future, the town aims to prevent waste production altogether. Back in 2015, Kamikatsu had developed a further roadmap to becoming ‘Zero Waste’ by 2020.

This ambition is within the bounds of possibility. The greatest achievement about the roadmap is that it not only developed innovative ways to prevent the disposal of a staggering amount of waste, but also got the local community involved as well. 

This is the sixth of a 10-part series

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