• Mark Strong

A Zero-waste city


A ground-level view of clustered Japanese shops and many neon signs
Busy buildings, but clean streets Credit: nrtb

Traveling can lead to some of the greatest rewards of life. I spent my high school and undergrad years studying teaching and Japanese so that I could live in Japan, and it all paid off wonderfully in my 20s. One of the most striking things to me was the high levels of cleanliness in many places. In classrooms, students are responsible for cleaning the room weekly, and the elderly in small towns usually keep the streets and sidewalks tidy. This isn't to say that south King County doesn't have cooperative communities and pretty places, but most places in Japan do this to a high level.


Several recycling bins lined up for: unburnable, plastic and vinyl, plastic bottles, aluminum cans
Credit: Or Hitch

When you're out and about in Japan, everywhere you'll see a set of three trash cans: burnable (food, unwashed plastic containers, leather), unburnable (aerosol cans, broken metal things, electronics) and paper/aluminum. This is the bare minimum, and the entire public is educated on how to use this system. Apartment buildings often add more recycling categories such as newspaper, light bulbs, cardboard, drink cartons, batteries and food containers.

Inside a wood frame with many different sized wood-paned windows are several tables with handcrafted Japanese goods
The Kuru Kuru thrift shop Credit: why-kamikatsu.jp

However, one town took zero-waste to the extreme: Kamikatsu in Shikoku, Japan, is 80% of the way to their 2030 goal to be carbon neutral. Their Zero Waste Center has residents sorting garbage into 45(!) categories before the remainder goes to the incinerator. They also have a thrift shop that operates just like SKTL's clothing swaps: residents drop off unwanted things and anyone can take anything provided they weigh and log the item. SKTL did exactly this at our May community clothing swap where 100 attendees exchanged 1,000 pounds of clothing, avoiding 4 tons of carbon emissions! Kamikatsu also has a sustainable brewery that sources imperfect crops that farmers aren't able to sell to stores. Leftover grain is then liquified into fertilizer for beer barley! One other amenity is a cafe with a rotating menu based on which ingredients are available. Sounds like a tool library would fit right into Kamikatsu! Read more at the town's website (in English).


A glass of golden beer is in focus with a Japanese garden pond and stone bridge in the background
I would waste ZERO of this beer. Credit: jeff~

If you've still got zero waste on the mind like I do, don't forget to mark your calendar for the June 25th Repair Cafe and get your things fixed instead of tossing them. We also have a June 29th virtual event where we audit household habits to make them more efficient. Also, stay on top of your pantries and freezers and eat stuff before it expires!