Since our arrival in Japan, we have faithfully sorted and hauled recylables to the correct spot on the right day in an effort to do our part to protect the environment in which we live. We have noticed more citizens doing the same. However, our neighbor translated some notes from a citizen's visit to the city garbage facility which are discouraging. Although the first step -- to separately collect plastics, "pet" (plastic) bottles and other items have been taken -- that doesn't mean these products are disposed of separately. In fact, the citizen's group reported that plastics including pet bottles are thrown into the fire along with the burnable garbage! The rationale is that the fire will burn hotter as a result. Burning plastics poisons the air with dioxins as well as tiny particles in the air, which are a problem for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma. In addition, although citizens carefully separate cans and bottles, they are thrown together in the collection truck and supposedly manually separated after collection according to a city garbage official. That is not to say they are ever recycled. Answers like there is no demand for such goods were given in response to the question of what happened to the cans and bottles (If, in fact, they are actually separated by hand). Certainly, there may be a problem with supply and demand of recyclable goods, but in a city like Tsukba, with environmental institutes in abundance, might not this problem make an excellent research project? The idea that it is an administrative headache that can be addressed by a city office whose head changes every three years does not reflect the complexity of the problem. Tsukuba City encourages citizens to dispose of their own waste. For example, they will pay for part of the cost of a composter that can be purchased at home center-type stores and placed outside for disposal of decomposable waste. On the other hand, the same incentive applies to private incinerators, which people can buy and burn whatever they like. We cannot count the nights our daughter has been awake coughing as a neighbor or farmer nearby burns wet leaves. A recent study in the US related high particle counts in the air with death from respiratory problems and prompted action by the Environmental Protection Agency to propose increased regulaion of this type of air pollution. Although there is an Environmental Agency in Japan, according to an article in the Daily Yomiuri Saturday April 12, they face opposition in many areas from MITI (the Ministry of Trade and Industry). MITI has cozy relations with various industrial concerns and is wary of any action that would threaten economic growth.
Although I have no idea how to improve the situation, I have noted that petitions are sometimes circulated by citizens in regard to problems that are not being adequately handled. If there are enough concerned citizens, the voice is heard, and we have seen changes as a result. A simple statement at the top of the page expressing the concern and as many signatures as possible sent to the city office is a start. As foreigners, if you come from a country that has made advances in recycling, why not share your experiences with the community via the Alien Times and be a part of the solution, not the problem.
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