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A Few Recycled Words About Garbage

Author: Martin Pauly, Issue: October 1996, Topic: Environment

Before returning to the US, Wayne Dawson wrote "Tsukuba Seems to be Working Hard to Stamp Out Recycling" in the July/August issue. Before commenting on the article I would like to thank Wayne. Several years ago Tim Boyle announced that he was returning to the US for half a year and asked if I would take over the AT during his absence. I put a notice in the AT saying that I would do it if I had help. Wayne and several others stepped forward and we were able to successfully turn out several issues. Not only did he submit articles but also helped with the "dog work" of scanning, inputting, proofing, copying and delivering. Very much appreciated.

Wayne was part of the team that put out the August '93 "What a Bunch of Garbage" issue. Some of the comments below are recycled from that issue and some are updated observations. I've tried to arrange these thoughts into the proper bags, put them out on the proper day, and leave the house just before the truck comes so they don't get wet or eaten by the dogs and crows. But sometimes theory and reality don't meet. Like in the local garbage problem. Some Scattered (by the dogs and crows)


1) Responsibility.

Wayne laid much of the blame for the garbage problem on "the city of Tsukuba" and "the bureaucratic nature of city officials." I think it's more complicated. When our family lived in Hanabatake (where Wayne lived) there was a very bad problem. We now live in Horage and there is no problem. It's the same city. What's different?

2) Neighborhood Group.

The city is divided into small areas and the Chonaikai (sub-divided into hans) or the Jichikai (roughly translated as Self-governing Group or Neighborhood Group, hereafter "NG") are responsible for their area. I don't completely understand the system, but from my limited experience it seems like the bulk of the responsibility for the success or failure of things like garbage pickup and a clean city lies with the NGs. The city can make the plans, set up a structure and supply the truck and the workers, but if the neighborhood cannot organize itself to get the garbage properly separated and out on the designated day, the workers won't pick it up. The city can print up colorful and informative posters specifying what can be thrown away on what day and it can distribute them to the NGs. But if the NGs do not distribute them to individual households, or individuals ignore the instructions, the system falls apart.

3) NG Who???

Who are the members of the NG? EVERYBODY, would seem the logical answer. Where we live now, this is so. But it was not in Hanabatake. And this seems to be the source of many of the problems. People who live in houses seem to be invited to join and those who do not live in houses seem not to be invited. (This is a generality because in Hanabatake there were people who did not live in houses who joined the NG.)

At first this struck me as discrimination against apartment dwellers. But I've come to see it from a different angle. Joining the NG requires paying a yearly fee, participating in the periodic "kurin sakusen" (cleaning up or weeding) of the neighborhood, taking a 1-week turn at cleaning up the garbage site ("gomi toban"), receiving and passing on the "kairan ban" (updates of neighborhood and city events), participating in activities like barbecues or trips, and accepting an office (e.g., chair, co-chair, treasurer) on a rotating (usually 1-year) basis. For some people it's simply not worth it to get involved, especially for a company person who has been transferred here for a year, for short-term students or researchers, for people who simply wish to keep to themselves, or even those who regard themselves as guests or consider themselves a bit above it all. They are sometimes referred to as "passengers."

4) "Passengers".

This term is a bit pejorative and refers to people who don't do their share of the work or who must be "volunteered to." An English equivalent might be transient or drifter. But sometimes it's a person between cultures, as a Japanese student from another part of Japan or a person from another country who would simply like a break from neighborhood contact and responsibilities.

5) NG/Passengers.

Of course there may be some feeling of resentment from those picking up the garbage towards those who are sitting at home, but it seems that the NGs accept the passengers and allow them to do "onbu" (as a baby rides on a mother's back). (I am reluctant to repeat the following but I don't even live near there and I've heard it 3 times. The over 70 year-old "kanri nin san" who recently recovered from a heart attack spends an awful lot of time resorting garbage that has been put out on the wrong days in the wrong bags in the Matsushiro Foreign Residence. Is this true?) In some areas (e.g., Sengen) the NG has debated about actively recruiting short-term residents into the NG and in Hanabatake people who were not formally invited simply joined.

6) Information.

Tsukuba is growing. Pickup districts, pickup sites, collection days, and the types of refuse that can be collected will continue to change until the building boom is over and the population levels off. The city puts out the information thru the NGs (thru kairan bans or fliers) and the NGs distribute it to their members. But non-members do not receive the information unless they see it posted at a government office or hall.

7) Pickup Sites.

Wayne spoke about "soggy cardboard lying all around the neighborhood" because it was blown by the wind. That's the problem with an open site. But if you want a covered site (a large walk-in locker is best) can you get the NG members to contribute? Should the city supply lockers or large dumpsters? Some places in Tokyo have these. But it costs money. And that means taxes. And the site location itself is often controversial. Many people agree that prisons, army bases and hospitals are necessary. But do you want one in front of your house? A kind landowner with a grass field will sometimes volunteer/be persuaded. But when he builds on his land, or simply says "One year is enough," the NG must find another site.

8) Dogs/Crows.

Stray dogs are a problem in Tsukuba (see Feb'96 AT). If garbage is put out the night before in an uncovered area, the K9s will drag it all over. So will the crows. Neither will go away soon.

9) Apartment buildings.

Newly built ones are supposed to have pickup sites. These are often ridiculously small for the number of apartments.

10) Greener on the other side of the fence?/across the ocean?

About 8 years ago, Buffalo, New York made CNN and FEN with a program of separating 8 types of garbage. Wow! But in my mother's area (a suburb) nothing was separated. A few years later they were separating into 2 types. And in the past few years it's 5 to 8 types, depending on where you live. But my mother moved to an apartment building with its own private garbage collector. Nothing was separated. Nothing. Everything was simply thrown into a huge dumpster which was emptied once a week by a huge lift into a huge garbage truck.

11) Clean-up Days.

Every other or every third month, on a Sunday morning, all of the NGs in the city participate in a big cleanup. The city sends around trucks to collect the refuse. There are also Clean up Mt. Tsukuba and Clean up Kasumigaura days.

12) "Clean Up The World."

On September 21st, "Clean Up The World" (an Australian non-governmental organization) had a clean up which began at the Central Library and ended in Kasuga 4-chome. The organizer, Ms Lilyan de la Vega of Mexico, said they filled over 100 bags. She was disappointed that only 30 people participated as thousands had participated in other countries. But she was unaware of the local NGs. When the group reached their destination at Kasuga Park they were surprized to find two older Japanese women cleaning up the park. The women knew nothing of the Clean Up The World group and said that they cleaned up the park every week at the same time.

13) Concern.

There is a lot of local concern about the garbage problem. As long ago as 15 years years ago the U of Tsukuba Festival had an exhibit about the problem. A man who is currently running for office, Mr. Murakami, touches the topic in his campaign literature. A large incinerator was recently completed in Oho. On our clean-up day about 90% of the NG households send at least one person to help.

14) No concern.

Ms. de la Vega expressed surprize at the number of cans that her group picked up. I too am constantly amazed at the trash people throw from their cars. Our NG is assigned about a 1/2 km stretch of a non-residential road and in an hour we have about 30 bags full. In supermarket parking lots people open their car doors and empty ashtrays on the ground.

15) Keep on smilin'.

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