Sunday, April 23, 2006

Gomi--Japanese Trash is Serious Business

February 9, 2006 (more stuff)

This may bore you, but it fascinated me. The cultural feeling of responsibility for the community and the planet is just so very different from ours! Gomi is Japanese for trash, and the rules concerning household waste are pretty amazing. We were issued a large gomi packet upon signing our lease, containing 120 bright yellow peel-and-stick trash labels, and an instruction booklet (a large instruction booklet!) in English and Japanese detailing what to do. Each family is issued these stickers for free at the beginning of the year--60 stickers per family member.
Basically, trash is divided into combustible trash, non-combustible trash, recyclable items and sodai gomi, or large items. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Wait, it gets better.
First, each resident must buy special transparent gomi bags from certain stores (I'm working on figuring out WHICH stores, and how to ask for them). The bags have specially marked spaces for those self-stick labels--one label for a small bag, two for medium, and three for large (45 liters). If your trash won't fit in the large bag, it's considered oversized, and there's a separate procedure for that. Your combustible and non-combustible trash goes into these special bags, and you must attach the proper number of stickers before walking to the special neighborhood gomi place (ours is a park a block away) and leaving the bags in the designated area. You may not leave the bags out the night before. You must leave them between 5:00 and 8:00am. If you leave them out too early, dogs or cats will tear them apart and strew the trash...and our neighbors will KNOW it's our trash all over the street, especially if it has stuff with English labels!
They won't take trash without the right labels, or in the wrong bags, or in the wrong place. If you run out of labels before the end of the year, you have to PURCHASE more--and the purchased ones are very vivid green or purple, so everyone in the neighborhood knows YOU were a wasteful person and a bad citizen. Combustible trash is picked up twice a week--Wednesday and Saturday (!!) for us. Non-combustible trash (aerosol cans, hair dryers(!) metal caps, etc.) is collected once a month. Kitchen waste, like orange peel, is considered combustible trash, but the government will subsidize your purchase of some sort of machine that I *think* is a compost bin. I have to wait until I can check with Sayuri, my Japanese housing counselor on the base, for a translation. Sometimes, the English version of Japanese instruction manuals makes no sense at all--in this case, the instruction booklet says I can "compound" my trash with the aid of a "special device". I hope that is a composting bin (it looks like one) but perhaps it's just a compactor.
Recyclable trash is picked up twice a month, and can go in any transparent stickers required. However, it has to be separated into one of 12 (yes, that's twelve, as in a ten and a two) different categories. I won't go into the extreme details, but I'll give a few examples. Drink cartons must be cut open, rinsed, laid flat, and tied into a bundle. Yard waste must be cut into lengths of no more than 80cm, and of a diameter of 10cm or less, and must be tied into 80 x 30cm bundles of no more than 10kg each. You are requested to brush all dirt from fallen leaves before bagging them in transparent bags (I am not making this up!!) You may put out no more than two bundles of sticks or two bags of leaves at a time. Dry cell batteries go in a special pail at the gomi collection point. Even cloth is recycled! And soiled or "dirtied" paper, like pizza boxes, are supposed to go with combustible trash, not recyclables (there's a whole list of specific kinds of paper that should not be recycled.)
Sodai gomi, like an old mattress or a kitchen chair, is picked up by appointment only....and you have to purchase special stickers for those items, ranging from about $5 to about $15 per item. Computers, appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners, concrete blocks, car parts, etc. can only be disposed of by calling the place of purchase and following their directions. The city will not take these items. My list of prices for sodai gomi is pretty will cost me about $15 to dispose of an electric organ, for example!
It's all pretty bewildering, and we've had several people (including several of my American teachers during the Intercultural Relations class) tell us "Oh, don't worry about all that stuff. Just bring your garbage to the dumpsters on base. We do!" But if our neighbors can all sort their trash properly, so can we. We'll be better stewards of the earth...and our Japanese neighbors will be less likely to see Americans as selfish pigs! Besides, I bet we'll meet some people when making our treks to the gomi station!
I also never realized how much trash one or two people can generate. It's really a revelation, and embarrassing, too! New produce less waste.


Unknown said...

I just moved to Japan, and I still have 3 bags of gomi in my apaato because I'm not clear on all the details. I live in Nara-ken, in a mountain town called Oyodo-cho. We are lucky in that we can buy the blue combustible bags at the Lawson or LIFE supermarket, and they're not too too expensive. It's still a little overwhelming... but the worst is carrying around trash because you can't find a trashcan. I have never been so happy to see a combini on a corner in my life, as when I had 2 plastic bottles and a sandwich wrapper in my bag! Thank god for the 7-11...

Thanks for the post... It's good to see the differences throughout the country.


Carolie said...

Thanks for your post, Matt! I tried to find your blog, or a way to e-mail you to thank you, and to ask you more questions, but couldn't figure out how. :(

Thanks for stopping by!!

iml said...

Truly an enlightening story of trash.

Mary Witzl said...

It strikes me that I must have either forgotten to leave a comment here or left it in the wrong place. Sorry!

When we lived in Japan, I was sometimes given the unpleasant task of telling the other foreigners in the neighborhood that they weren't discarding their trash properly. There were an Irish couple, a few other Americans, and quite a number of Australians, and all of them were bigger than I and not at all happy to hear what I had to say. I am so glad to be out of that.

I am glad to see that Matt in Nara actually kept his trash in his apartment when he was unclear what to do with it. Believe me, most of our foreign neighbors did not have his scruples.

Anonymous said...

could someone advise if its safe to pick up sodaigomi like disposed matress etc from the building you live in.these are marked with convinience store stickeres. a lot of my frends have done this, but i wondered if there could be some trouble ?


Carolie said...

JJ, I wish I knew the answer, but I don't. I do know several people who "collect" things on trash day, with no problem. The only problem I can think of is the fact that when you get a sodai gomi sticker, you call for a pickup, and if you take a mattress or something like that, the folks will show up to collect it, and won't find anything to collect. Now, this may not be a big deal...but I would probably suggest that you ask your neighborhood captain if that's something you can do. Good luck...let me know what you find out!

Charles Gramlich said...

I certainly wouldn't mind if the USA did a bit more of this kind of thing. We don't even have a recycling center within any kind of reasonable driving distance.

Anonymous said...

WOW-that's amazingly weird
-sanjaya malacar

Anonymous said...

My Japanese wife threw me out. Now I feel like I am Gomi :(

Arizona foreclosures said...

This is very interesting information.
Trash Disposal

Meredith Peruzzi said...

Laughing out loud here that I am not the only one who kept trash in the apartment while figuring out what to do with it! I was in Tsukuba city, Ibaraki prefecture.


Oh, that's great! An excellent blog and insightful article. I wish you would post more! really nice. Many thanks.

Unknown said...

Good evening everyone, I am trying to do the same in my community, I am developing a doctoral thesis in my country Venezuela, but it is not easy, the people does not understand that we are destroying our planet. Could you please send me in .pdf file the english version of the japanese rules? Thank you very much. e-mail: