Japan is leading the way in recycling its home as well as its industrial wastes.
An example is the residents of three 19-storey Foreseum condominiums, who have joined forces to sort and dispose their recyclable materials and garbage in Kawasaki City. They are doing this to help preserve their environment for future generations.
Kawasaki City, with a population of 1.4 million, is just south of Japan's capital city of Tokyo. The residents' recycling initiative, which started six years ago, is effectively and successfully turning trash into treasure.
The city was the first place which our team of Pacific and Caribbean journalists toured on October 19.
Mineo Yahata, 65, is superintendant of the privately owned company Haseko Community Inc. He runs a tight ship. With a staff of 18, he collects sorted wastes and places them outside of the high-rise complex buildings. The initiative has been raising recycling awareness in Japan, and has attracted widespread attention there for its environmentally friendly work.
Yahata said other countries that are unable to properly manage their waste, can easily pattern the system he uses, starting at the elementary school level. Yahata believes that this residents' initiative has helped some 2,500 Kawasaki City people to manage their wastes effectively while working together for a common cause.
Yahata said at the doorstep of a condominium tower of 777 middle and upscale three-bedroom apartments, all garbage is placed in translucent bags, which are collected six days a week by sanitation crews. Garbage includes discarded plastic, empty bottles and cans, old newspapers, magazines and kitchen waste.
There are specific days for collections.
Once collected, the sealed bags are placed inside 28 dumpsters on the compound, which are picked up by municipal trucks and transported to companies with experience in environmental preservation.
Yahata said the trash collection service, which the Foreseum complex's 1,500 homeowners pay for in their monthly maintenance fee, has increased the value of their properties, which were initially priced between 40 to 70 million Yen (TT$2.5 million to TT$4.5 million).
"These apartments, which were privately built, would now fetch a higher price on the commercial market because of the garbage collection service we provide. Shortly after these apartments were advertised, they were quickly sold because of the garbage collection service that we offered," Yahata boasted.
He also noted that relatively few condominium projects in the city offer similar comprehensive trash management services.
Approximately 1.2 to 1.5 tonnes of garbage are collected daily by Yahata's employees. The trash is recycled into toilet paper, energy, moulding, plastic flower pots and even clothes.
In 2014, waste treatment in Kawasaki City cost taxpayers a staggering 13.5 billion Yen (TT$869 million). But the city has been one of the first in Japan to overcome significant pollution. It no longer has grey skies from its own waste. It has transformed itself into a leading environmentally-friendly city by intelligently using knowledge gained from diverse technologies for preventing environmental pollution.
The Japanese are seeing their wastes in a whole new way. Whether it is how they collect wastes, manage their system, or educate their people, things are done differently.
Gone are the days when sanitation workers would pick up trash and bury it in landfills to decay. Now, staff analyse bags of garbage before sending the contents to be recycled at industrial companies. They document hazardous waste items, and they educate participants in clean-up exercises on the dangers of certain plastics to sea and to human life.
The man behind some of these changes is 20-year-old Natsuyuki Fujimori, an environmental conservationist. On October 22, he brought some 45 volunteers to Arakawa River in Adachi Ward, Toyko, on a clean-up exercise to remove garbage that had been washed up along its banks. The volunteers picked up garbage which had entered the river further upstream. Armed with gloves, translucent bags and metal tongs, the volunteers–including children, retirees, bank workers and public servants–joined Fujimori in cleaning up.
Fujimori works for an environmental advocacy group called Clean Aid Forum. Every week, commissioned by the Japanese government, he partners with employees of non-governmental organisations to do clean-up exercises.
Fujimori said that previously, in Japan, garbage would be sent straight to industrial companies to be recycled, but that now the wastes are also analysed and documented for future reference.
Last year, Fujimori said 10,000 participants collected 5,602 bags of litter, and removed 1,484 bulk waste items such as discarded tyres and household appliances.
The river is cleaned 159 times a year by volunteers who want to preserve the environment and protect sea life from being harmed or killed. It's a task Fujimoriu takes great pride in.
"I love doing this," said Fujimori, who ditched his job as a corporate worker to clean public places.
"This was my calling. People have scorned what I do, but this is what makes me happy."
After each clean-up session, Fujimori said newcomers are shown colourful drawings and told how fishes choke and die when they ingest items such as plastic bags, which irresponsible people dump into the sea.
"So when they leave here, they have a better understanding and appreciation for the environment and the importance of our fishing stock," said Fujimori.
He said after the garbage is picked up, it is sorted according to a list.
"We also document the type of garbage, how many bags are collected, and what percentage is hazardous waste as opposed to the plastics collected."
Once this is done, Fujimori said a foreign organisation called JEAN processes the data, and shares it internationally. He explained: "JEAN is involved in the clean-up of beaches around the world. This data is then sent to Ocean Conservancy in the US, which compiles annual reports on its findings of garbage dumped in seas."