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Tsukuba Seems To Be Working Hard To Stamp Out Recycling

Author: Wayne Dawson, Issue: August 1996, Topic: Environment

This is probably my last article in the Alien Times, at least this is the last article I will write for the Alien Times for some time to come. Tsukuba is a town with a high turn over rate, and I am off to a new place myself. If have enjoyed assisting in the editing process at this monthly, and I will miss many wonderful people I have had the pleasure to share time together with here in Japan.

I wrote an article several years ago on recycling in this same newspaper. I realize that there are people who are very responsible and are really trying to do their part to recycle what they can. I also see that some forms of collection of recyclable items have stayed the same or improved since I came here some three and a half years ago. Moreover, I don't know the situation in every town in my own country or even in the city where I am going to, so I can only speak for the places I have lived in the US and that is all.

Nevertheless, when I came to Japan, I expected to be taught a thing or two about recycling. After all, Japan is a resource poor country where water is about the only plentiful natural resource. Japan must import practically all its raw materials to carry out any kind of manufacturing at all. On the other hand, the US has many natural resources and so there is still little reason to worry about anything. Therefore, one might predict that everyone in the US wastes everything, and people in Japan are very diligent about recycling everything imaginable. Instead, I have seen almost the exact opposite.

Perhaps it is the nature of a manufacture-based society to discourage the renewal of resources because it reduces demand. If shoes are repaired, then there is no one to buy new shoes. If cans and bottles are recycled, then the bottle producers will not have as much demand for there wares. That was certainly the battle that raged for some time in California when the returnable bottle issue appeared on the ballot. Still, it comes as a complete shock to realize that there is a country in the world which wastes more things than the US. Indeed, I have never conceived of so much waste, until my experience in Tsukuba. Once again, I openly admit that I can't speak for every place in the US but only those places where I have lived.

Plastic is produced in huge quantities here, and there is no way to recycle most of it. Bento trays, plastic bottles, and various assorted containers utilize plastic which cannot be recycled. Yet there are facilities in the US which are able to recycle most forms of plastics. Plastics themselves are now classified according to the type of plastic which is used. Bento trays are not so common in the US, but the multitude of plastic bottles are, and all of these are manufactured according to a code, and can be recycled. The process has existed long enough that most things are now classified according to this code and are labeled as such.

In Tsukuba, steel cans and bottles are supposed to be recycled, however, these channels have been cut off because people have been dumping trash at recycle sites. Actually, the whole idea of a collection point is a little frustrating for those of use who are busy and have to get around on bicycles. Usually the collection points are far away and one must make several trips to deliver all the recyclable on the designated day. This is especially true for the cardboard and paper which is almost worthless when it becomes soaked with rain. (Since it rains quite often in Japan, a recycler must consider this point.)

But even that would not be so bad as finding the collection points nothing but a trash dump. There may be some foreigners who live in those areas where the collection points are located. Such people might be mistaking one type of collection from another. However, it seems clear that the majority of the people doing the dumping are Japanese. This is very bad, because Japanese people should be able to read the signs. Yet even this is not why I find myself criticizing the city of Tsukuba. After all, the signs are there, and we don't need to have a policeman standing around checking whether people are submitting recyclable materials, or garbage. If citizens are irresponsible, what can a city do?

Yet, to some extent, the failure of these collection points does stand on the action of the city of Tsukuba. Perhaps it is partly the bureaucratic nature of city officials. What I was most appalled about was that the collection points were nothing but open fields. The minimum they could have done was provide a covered housing for cardboard and paper recycling. Instead, one is expected to set this paper and cardboard out in the open field where the wind blows scattering the cardboard all over the city, then the rain pours down and we have soggy cardboard lying all around the neighborhood. In a way, this is also a form of "recycling" because the cardboard serves as a kind of mulch. However, I think a more appropriate word is "litter". I complained to one of the officials about this point and the only answer I received (in Japanese, of course) was "put it in a bag". I admit that my Japanese did not achieve the eloquence that I really wanted to reach, so I sometimes have difficulty making my point, but that kind of answer gives me a clear impression of how much effort is really being exerted on this issue.

In the place I lived before, each home was supplied with four crates in which different recyclable items were placed. Twice a month, citizens were requested to put out recyclable items (in these crates) which the city would then collect. The collection truck would come around in the same way as the garbage truck come to pick up the garbage. Steel cans, bottles, cardboard, and plastic were collected. I suspect that many European countries have even more efficient recycling than the US. Something similar could be done here in Japan. Obviously, it takes some thought on how to organize such a system, but that doesnft seem like a difficult task for a "science city".

Just to be fair, several stores in central Tsukuba have not changed their policy on collecting renewable resources. Daiei still takes milk cartons, styrofoam trays, and plastic bags. Kasumi takes aluminum cans, and styrofoam trays. Jusco takes styrofoam trays and milk cartons. The recycle centers are sometimes difficult to find in these stores, but they are sticking to the recycling mentality. Three cheers.

Well, I hope that if I ever return here to Tsukuba ? "the international city" ? that the recycling mentality will have made a quantum leap. For now, all you rebels who feel guilty about wasting, keep up the good fight. We need to impress upon the minds of bureaucrats and company officials that "recycling" is not a "crime", and that an environmentally educated world is a necessity as the 20th century comes to a close.

(Editor's Note: This is Wayne's last article for the Alien Times, as least as a resident of Tsukuba anyway. After a stay of three and a half years, Wayne has accepted a position at a university in Louisiana in the U.S. and will soon be saying good bye to all of his friends here in Tsukuba. We will all miss him and his witty articles for the A.T. Bon Voyage and best wishes from us all!)

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