Let’s talk trash. It’s Thursday, September 8 and I’ve been working on this post for a few days.
It is possible that there is nothing more confusing or frustrating about Japan than the Japanese trash collection system. From day 1, it’s just over my head. I’m sure I’m super confused right now because we just arrived but I know I’m not the only one. Both Japanese natives and foreigners have expressed confusion to me about this crazy trash scheme. Andrew went over the trash with me several times when we arrived but I still get lost. He said he doesn’t even deal with the trash, he gives his wife that dirty job.
It is even hard to know where to begin. I could literally go on for days about the trash!
First off, trash is categorized in many ways. There is burnable trash, and unburnable trash, glass, cans, plastic (PET) bottles, non-PET plastic (Pu-Ra), dangerous garbage, large-sized garbage. There are rules for the trash too. Milk and juice cartons must be washed out and cut up so that they lay flat before you throw them out. There is actually a diagram on the carton for this. The bottom of take out containers (mostly made of a styrofoam material) that ready made food comes in must also be washed and they are thrown in a separate bin.
Plastic bottles, or items with the PET 1 label, must be set outside in plastic baskets or when in public thrown in special receptacles. The same is true with glass and metal or aluminum cans. But the bottle caps from the plastic bottles are burnable and must be set aside for the burnable trash. Don’t throw the bottle caps away with the bottles! And if at all possible, the plastic PET bottles should be squashed flat by your foot before tossing in the trash.
Above is regular plastic (Pu-Ra)
Now, on to trash pick up service. In our neighborhood, which is called Boshima, burnable trash is picked up every week on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Cans and glass containers are picked up only on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Non-burnable trash, PET bottles, hazardous waste and large items are picked up only on the second and fourth Monday of the month. It is imperative that you know what day it is if you want to get rid of your trash!
When Andrew and his family left, they left behind a large basket of glass bottles and cans because it wasn’t time for them to be picked up yet. I said I would set them out on the right day. Well it turned out the fourth Wednesday of the month was August 24, the day we went to Universal Studios Japan, and we forgot to put out the glass and cans before we left! So this glass and metal has been sitting in a basket on my floor for weeks because I cannot get rid of it until the second Wednesday of the month! And it’s not even close yet! Yesterday, September 7, was only the first Wednesday of the month. Also, glass bottles and containers go in one basket and metal and cans go in another basket so when the day arrives they’re going to have to be separated.
Now, on to the trash bags. When you register your address with City Hall one of the things they give you is a year’s supply of trash bags for your burnable trash. All burnable trash must go in these bags, otherwise your trash will not be picked up. We knew this but in the beginning it was hard to remember. We threw a couple of bags of kitty litter in the trash can on trash day but they were left behind because they were not bagged in the proper plastic burnable bag. There are different bags for non-burnable trash, hazardous waste (such as aerosol cans, batteries, needles, lightbulbs etc.) and small e-waste items. These bags must be purchased. I don’t even know where to buy them but I have a good supply left from Andrew so I hope for that to last a while.
Another singular frustration is the fact that the city supplied burnable trash bags do not fit into the typical household kitchen trash can that is in this house. The burnable bags are just too small. I have to stretch with all my strength (it’s really tough thick plastic!) to get these bags to extend over the sides of my trash can. When we were at Art’s house I asked if their trash bags fit into their can and they said no!
Here is a page from the City of Minoh Guide with a pictorial spreadsheet on the trash:
Minoh also gave us an instruction sheet with our supply of burnable bags. It says things like:
— The bags for burnable garbage provided at this time are those that you may need by the end of September. If you moved to the City between January and June, or between July and December, you can receive the bags for burnable garbage that you may need by the end of September this year, or the end of September next year, respectively.
— When you put out your bag for burnable garbage, please tie it in a cross-shaped knot.
— Regarding PET bottles: Remove the cap and the label and wash inside. (Caps and labels are burnable garbage). They actually expect you to remove the label on the bottle?
— If you have large-sized garbage you must purchase a “large-sized garbage ticket” available at “designated stores” wherever that is! I’ve heard you can also take your crazy sized garbage to a collection site that is apparently way up a mountain because there is even a Japanese word for this: Gominoyama, translated as trash mountain.
And finally there are the large sized cardboard boxes (20x20x20) that we had shipped here from the US with our things. I cannot get rid of these boxes! Every time I ask someone about how to get rid of our shipping boxes they shake their heads and say, “TAIHEN.”
Here is a word about “taihen” from the blog site Japanvisitor:
The word “taihen” is a handy cover-all item of Japanese vocabulary that can be used in pretty much any situation where an undesirable result or situation has come about, or one which involves or suggests a difficult time ahead for those involved.
In English, it could be loosely translated, depending on degree of formality, from “You have my every sympathy” to “I don’t envy you” to “What a pain in the ass.”
Our friend Art has a theory that the reason why Costco in Japan sets out boxes for you to put your groceries in is because not even Costco knows how to get rid of their boxes. By the way, everyone bags their own groceries here, even at Costco. So when they ring you up they just stick everything in a new basket or cart and you figure out what to do with it. Art refuses to take any boxes home!
When you put your trash outside the house on trash day, you have to put the trash bags in either a plastic bin or under a large yellow net so that the crows don’t get the trash and make a mess! Apparently everyone knows this from experience.
Just about every grocery store and convenience store here have trash recycling bins out front. They all have pictures so you can see what is supposed to go in them. Most of the time they are for bottles, cans, and burnable trash. Sometimes you can find bins for newspaper and magazines and occasionally for the take out containers. I’m still looking for a place to throw out my recyclable plastic that does not say PET. I’m sure they must be somewhere. The non-PET items say “Pu-Ra” for plastic. I hate to throw all this plastic in with the burnable trash.