On Sorting Garbage in Japan | 屑選別

In Japan, every town has its own series of hipster garbage bags for specific categories of trash. My town has four; others have more: Kamikatsu, in Shikoku, has 44.

The bags are labeled with descriptions of what goes inside of them. If there is ever confusion, a 7-page comic book explains what goes where and on what days. Special garbage pickup days are also announced by a mysterious figure using bull horns mounted on electrical poles.

Based on the drawings on each bag, the garbage sorting goes like this:


Pink: Canned goods, more canned goods; whiskey bottles and orange juice.


White: Fish Bones, Cleaning Fluids and Ladies’ handbags.

Yellow: Tea Kettles, Soup Bowls and hair driers.

(Photo too boring to show)
Green: Recyclable Plastic Bottles.

It took a week or two but I’m used to it. Japan burns all of its trash, so in my town the bags are sorted into burnable (non-toxic, sorta) and non-burnable (toxic, sorta) categories. This reduces the trash that gets set on fire in the sea, which is a major source of pollution. The do-gooders in Kamikatsu have gone so far as to supply each household with an incinerator that makes compost.

In my town, the canned goods bag is for direct recyclables: Aluminium and glass. The fish skeleton bag is for “burnable” goods, so things like paper, certain kinds of biodegradable plastics and food waste. The Tea Kettle bag is for heavy plastics and metals which can be recycled or need to be destroyed in a special way. The boring green bag is specifically for plastic drink containers (But you have to remove the labels, since the labels are burnable). Cardboard boxes have to be returned to city hall, for some reason.

Different bags go out on different days. If you toss your trash improperly, the rubbish man has the right to return the garbage to your front hallway. Repeat offenders go to garbage-sorting school, something like a driver’s ed course only without the unnecessary excitement.

I live in an apartment building, so I’m not sure how anyone would be able to track the trash back to me. But I’m paranoid, because I’ve noticed a white moving van parked across from the rubbish bin on garbage days. I think it’s a stake out.

Also, binge-drinkers be warned: In 2008, a woman was sentenced to prison for disposing of her own vomit in a trash bag (Granted, she was a bulimic who disposed of 15 kilos [33lbs] in a single day). Since it’s all sorted eventually, the garbage-collecting folk aren’t interested in that kind of discovery, especially several days down the road. (Though I haven’t seen any clear explanation of what you should do with such a bag; I suppose burial is the best strategy).

The bags are about 350 Yen for 10; or about 35 cents US. They would also make amazing T-shirts. And check out GBA, a cool art collective in Japan that makes beautifully designed garbage bags.

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2 Responses to On Sorting Garbage in Japan | 屑選別

  1. Brett says:

    I can’t believe a woman was sentenced to prison for throwing away vomit. Is there a haz-mat specific bag (perhaps one pictured with with a woman heaving/pooping in a bag)? Let us know if you are being tailed by the secret garbage police.

  2. Pingback: On Ozu, Architecture and Japanese Lunch Boxes | This Japanese Life. | 生命を外面九天です

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