Japan's waste system was recently covered by the Wall Street Journal. you have to pay to read it
Some amazing facts
- Japan owns two thirds of the worlds waste incinerators
- Japan recycles or burns 80% of its municiple waste
- At its current rate of growth Japan will fill its last landfill in 30 years
They are about to launch a new manual for waste separation that should extend it another 20 years. Either way, they are running out of space for waste. In that regard their programs are more stringent and a unique test bed for future waste solutions.
This is how thier system works now. They have three catagories for waste. 1)recyclable. 2) burnable. 3)non-burnable. Under the new program, the catagory burnable will include rubber, up to and including small rubber boots. It also includes some plastics.
What?! Isn't that stuff nasty to burn? Yes. But apparently they scrub the exhaust of everything toxic. The byproduct is a small amount of toxic ash which they seal in air tight containers.
They enforce the regulation through a system you could only utilize in Japan or the UK. They use clear plastic bags. Garbage collectors will not take bags that include improperly sorted waste. No one wants the shame that goes with your bag being the only one left at the end of the day, so they comply. They also have a long history of regard for nature.
Japan has one curious new regulation that I want to know more about. Products above a certain size (about 12") are not allowed to be burned or trashed. They are collected and resold. If this part is sustainable, and moreso transferable, it could massively transform the way waste is managed in the rest of the world. I live in NYC and I see stuff like beds, and massive childrens toys thrown out all the time. Its a little gross building these pimples on the earths crust that we call landfills. Its also a massive waste of material resources.
So I'm left with two things. 1) How can we use toxic ash? If incineration is the best solution we have for eliminating landfills, toxic ash is going to become a major new material resource.
2) Product cycling, if it works as a business, as opposed to waste management, sounds like a great intermediary until we have a national or global material separation and reclamation management system.