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[ISHES Newsletter #30]Aiming to Inspire! The Town of Kamikatsu Moves toward a Zero-Waste Society

2021/01/25 15:36:27

ISHES Newsletter #30
January 25, 2021

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Copyright (c) 2021

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

Welcome to our 30th ISHES newsletter!

The year 2021 has begun and our lives are still being strongly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In the coming months, the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) will introduce initiatives as Japan moves toward a "new normal" and we would like to help our readers stay positive and find inspiration and creative ideas to get us all through this together.

In this January 2021 issue, you will find the following articles:

- Aiming to Inspire: The Town of Kamikatsu Moves toward a Zero-Waste Society
Kamikatsu, a town in Tokushima Prefecture, was Japan's first municipality to make a "Zero Waste Declaration" as part of its efforts to create a zero waste society. The declaration has inspired many initiatives in the town and beyond. Read on to learn more!

- Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter
We also introduce a JFS article from 2004, shortly after Kamikatsu first made its Zero Waste Declaration. For context, this article goes well with our feature article this month.


Aiming to Inspire! The Town of Kamikatsu Moves toward a Zero-Waste Society


ZERO WASTE TOWN Kamikatsu website

By the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan

In using the Earth's limited resources, it is crucial that we reduce the amount of waste and promote reuse and recycling. Japan has a town that made a "Zero Waste Declaration" in 2003 and has been striving to address this issue. Kamikatsu in Tokushima Prefecture has a population of 1,500. In the March 2019 ISHES newsletter, we described the town's efforts to achieve zero waste, and this month we go into more detail about the events that led the town to make the declaration, and about the impacts of zero waste on businesses and more.

Promoting Meticulous Sorting for Recycling

In the community where you reside, what kinds of rules apply when you put the waste out? In Japan, the number of categories of waste depends on the municipality, but legislation prescribes the separation of waste into burnable items, waste paper, plastic wrapping, glass bottles, cans, plastic bottles, "dangerous items" (such as spray cans), non-burnable items, bulky items, etc.

The community carrying out Japan's most detailed waste sorting is the town of Kamikatsu, where we cast our spotlight this time. Today the town has 45 separate categories for waste.

To introduce just one part of the town's waste sorting efforts, there are nine categories just for paper: newspaper inserts, corrugated cardboard, low-grade magazine paper, paper cartons, paper cartons with aluminum foil, paper cups, hard paper cores, shredded paper and others. For cans as well, the separation of materials is thorough: they are divided into steel cans and aluminum cans, and any plastic caps or nozzles are removed and separated as "plastic caps."

The reason for this detailed sorting is that it increases the amount of resources that can be recycled. As a matter of fact, for several years, Kamikatsu has achieved a very high recycling rate of about 80 percent.

Open Burning of Trash until the 1990s

However, it is not as if Kamikatsu has always conducted environmentally friendly resource management. It is hard to imagine it now, but from 1975 for 20 or more years, Kamikatsu allowed open burning. The town's residents had begun casting their waste in the same spot where the forestry workers were discarding sawdust, and before anyone realized it, open burning became firmly entrenched.

The dump (incineration site) where open burning was occurring became a source of foul odors and caused many other problems, such as attracting crows and feral pets and creating a forest fire hazard. With rising awareness about environmental problems, the town realized it had to do something. The town's finances, however, made it difficult to have a proper incinerator or landfill space meeting national standards.

One solution was to reduce the amount of waste. If recycling increased, the amount of waste to incinerate or landfill could be reduced. Thus in 1991, a system was launched to subsidize the purchase of food-scrap bins (for composting), and Kamikatsu initiated other efforts to reduce waste, such as its Recycling Town Plan of 1994.

Then, in 1998, it closed the incineration site where open burning had been going on, and had two small incinerators installed. At this stage, waste was being sorted into 22 categories.

However, right at the time when the incinerators were purchased in the latter half of the 1990s, dioxin pollution had become such a huge problem in Japan that the central government began enforcing the Act on Special Measures concerning Countermeasures against Dioxins in the year 2000. This law set stricter emissions standards for incinerators, and one of the incinerators Kamikatsu had just purchased failed to meet these standards.

The decision Kamikatsu made at this point was for a radical course change to reduce waste in an initiative to retire both incinerators. In 2001, a mere three years after installing them, the town shut them both down. The waste sorting categories increased to 35.

Following this sequence of events, the town finally made its famous Zero Waste Declaration in 2003. The gist of the declaration is as follows: 1. We will educate people not to pollute the Earth.
2. We will promote waste reuse and recycling, and eliminate incineration and landfilling by 2020.
3. We will build a worldwide network for a better environment.

The ambitious goal of eliminating incineration and landfilling by 2020 is what catches the eye, but what also distinguishes this declaration is that it includes education and networking worldwide as a means of magnifying the effort.

Encouraging Wider Zero Waste Activities

Kamikatsu town office website

Playing a big part in implementing this declaration was a non-profit organization named the Zero Waste Academy, which was founded in 2005. It was created to propagate, educate and foster human resources for promoting zero waste. It has played an important role in supporting zero-waste activities such as providing classes at elementary schools and opening a center, dubbed "Kurukuru," for people to exchange items at no charge so that usable items are not wasted.

In January 2019, Ms. Akira Sakano, who was then director of the Academy, served as one of six co-chairs at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, attracting further attention to the concept of the circular economy.

In these ways, Kamikatsu's zero-waste initiative is drawing attention not only in Japan, but also overseas. This has brought visitors to the town from corporations, local governments and civil society from Japan and around the world who are interested in zero-waste activities.

Kamikatsu is a remote town in the mountains of Tokushima Prefecture, about an hour's drive from the prefectural capital of Tokushima City. When the number of visitors increased the town realized it needed more dining and lodging facilities. In fact, several businesses have opened here since 2003 when the "zero waste" policy was declared and they are helping to build Kamikatsu's brand identity. The Cafe Polestar encourages patrons to bring their own handkerchief in aiming for zero waste. The HOTEL WHY opened in 2020 as a "zero-waste action" hotel, unique to Kamikatsu, where guests can try their hand at sorting waste into 45 categories.

Activities like these are expanding, making good use of the "zero waste" brand in Kamikatsu. Other examples include Kurukuru Kobo, a studio selling articles made through reuse of items such as "koi-nobori" (carp pennants) and kimonos; and the RISE & WIN Brewing Co., which sells craft beer by volume. Many initiatives such as these aiming for a sustainable society have been born here, resonating with the "zero waste" concept.

Processes Around the Zero Waste Declaration

For Kamikatsu's "zero waste" activities introduced here, the processes leading up to the Zero Waste Declaration have played an even more important role than just making the declaration. If residents had not been bothered by odors and the danger of forest fires, there would never have been the sense of crisis and concern among the people about waste problems, and the idea of reducing the amount of waste radically might never have occurred to them.

Also, putting this conviction into the form of a Zero Waste Declaration provided the motive force to give rise to many subsequent activities. If a vision and declaration are nothing but words, they have little effect. But if people share the same hopes and dreams, they begin to have great significance.

Looking to the Future

In December 2020, Kamikatsu made a new Zero Waste Declaration, indicating the town's goals for the year 2030.

The new Zero Waste Declaration has three articles, "Building rich lives with zero waste," "Taking on any challenges and conducting any experiments the town is capable of to reduce items that become waste to zero," and "Creating mechanisms for learning about zero waste and environmental issues, and assuming leadership in the new era." As mentioned, Kamikatsu's recycling ratio today is about 80%. To reach its goal of 100%, Kamikatsu continues to move forward.

Zero waste is also a vision that the whole world ought to aim for. Among Kamikatsu's efforts, could the sorting methods or other activities be adopted by your community? As we start this new year, we hope this newsletter will inspire people to think about what we can do to achieve a sustainable society.


Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan


In this regular section of each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we recommend past articles from Japan for Sustainability newsletters. The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018, sending out information to the world with the aim of moving society in Japan and the world toward sustainability and greater happiness.

Here is a JFS article from 2004, shortly after Kamikatsu first made its Zero Waste Declaration as described above. It will give readers more context for our feature article this month.

Towards Building a Society with Sound Material Cycles: the Zero Waste Declaration from Kamikatsu Town in Tokushima Prefecture


Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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