24 Apr Rights and Wrongs of Tokyo Garbage Disposal
How to throw away your trash in Tokyo
Welcome to Japan- the land of systems, and organization. There is so much good that comes from living in an organized country! Clean trains, organized lines/queues, and a systematic way of sorting trash.
When you first move here, you might be overwhelmed by all the different ways you need to sort and organize your trash. In fact, this is one of the reasons some landlords hesitate to rent their properties to expats.
Basic ideas first: Trash NEEDS to be separated, and trash NEEDS to be thrown out on designated days (or just the night before). The only time you don’t need to worry about trash schedule, is if your apartment complex has an onsite trash room that’s accessible 24/7.
In this article, we want to help you know exactly what you can expect and how to sort that “gomi” with no sweat! (gomi/ゴミ = trash!)
How is trash separated in Tokyo?
Each ward has its own system of trash separation and specific instructions on how to prepare/dispose of certain items. Since there are many systems, we recommend you look up your wards garbage separation policies. Usually, when you move in, you will receive a pamphlet on handling trash. If it is in Japanese, you can look for an English copy online for your ward and location.
Most Tokyo wards have pretty similar rules– when going outside of Tokyo, rules can be quite different.
Looking at the 5 central wards of Tokyo- Meguro, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Setagaya, and Minato- let’s check out the basic garbage separation guidelines!
These are your everyday trash items, such as food scraps, dirtied paper products, general trash, and so on…
Now for Minato, Meguro, and Shinjuku wards, they require you to separate plastics from burnables, that have this marking on them:
Plastic containers such as yogurt cups, plastic wrap, snack bags, dressing bottles, etc. should be rinsed and thrown into a separate clear bag.
Shibuya and Setagaya wards, allow you to combine all of those plastic products with your regular Burnable trash.
Make sure to throw out all of your burnable trash, into a clear plastic bag.
To help you know what trash goes in this category, think about it as things you wouldn’t want to throw into your campfire, or what wouldn’t burn well.
Your metal items, foil, batteries, ceramics, small household items (under 30cm), sharp items such as broken glass or kitchen knives (which need to be wrapped in a towel or cardboard and marked as dangerous), light bulbs, and more.
Specific separation depends on your ward, so please check with them (even the 5 wards mentioned above are slightly different).
Again, all of your non-burnable trash needs to be placed into a clear plastic bag (so they can see what is inside).
Generally separated into 4 categories
- Pet Bottles (water bottles)
- Glass Bottles
- Paper Products (newspapers, cardboard boxes, unspoiled papers, magazines, books)
For the pet bottles, the labels and caps need to be taken off and thrown into the plastic trash.
All Pet Bottles, Cans, and Glass Bottles should be rinsed and separated into a clear plastic bag. Often times recyclables are put into plastic crates (with Cans, or Bottles, etc., written on them), that will either be outside of your apartment complex the night before disposal, or in your designated garbage room.
Paper products are typically stacked and tied together with plastic twine (sold at convenience stores). Usually these products are separated, so you would have magazines bundled together, all cardboard boxes grouped, etc.
Japanese recyclable types:
Now what to do with that old tv or broken microwave??
Throwing away large items is not easy in Tokyo.
There isn’t an alleyway or a place to lay it out, hoping someone handy might want to pick it up and try to fix it. In fact, you will need to PAY to have these items picked up. So when a friend of a friend has an old tv they want to give you, it might sound nice at first, but make sure it’s in good working condition before you take it. If it’s broken, then you are stuck having to throw it out- and to pay for it to be thrown out!
Oversized Garbage is typically anything measuring over 30 cm.
Dressers, kids’ bicycles, futons, large duvets, chairs, and so on. You will need to call your ward to reserve a date to have it picked up, and you are required to pay a fee (trash stickers are put on the oversized items, so the trash disposal people know it’s been paid for).
Most city wards do not collect large items such as Airconditioning units, small heaters, fridges, sofas, TVs. If you are purchasing a new TV or AC, for example, the company installing your new product will typically take your old one free of charge (or for very cheap). If you are wanting to get rid of these things, without replacing them, you need to find the collection service for your area, or you can call the manufacturing company of each product, and they can tell you how to dispose of them. Again a pick-up appointment and fee will be needed.
Now that I got it all
Sorted Out, how does it get collected?
Each ward has its own schedule.
Typically burnable trash is collected twice a week, with the other groups collected once a week. You will receive the calendar when you move in, with the dates and times for collection.
Trash schedules are also posted within apartments themselves.
Each apartment building or house, will have a designated trash collection spot. These are usually located just outside the apartment, or a short distance away.
One convenience of living in a large apartment building, is that they often have a designated trash room, or trash shed, where you can take your trash down any day of the week.
If your trash collection spot is located outside of your apartment complex or house, you will need to place your trash in the designated spot on the morning of pickup, or late the night before. Never put out trash in the afternoon.
If you are thinking, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them- I’ll just mix all my trash!”
Perhaps not the best idea.
For apartment complexes, there is usually a janitor who cleans the apartment complex and is in charge of sorting trash. They may look through your trash if something doesn’t seem right, and if they find that you are throwing away knives into burnable trash- for example- you might be finding that bag on your doorstep, or some notice from management.
Sometimes trash can even rejected by garbage collectors, resulting in complaints by your neighbors. These are just the types of practices that can make owners hesitate to rent to expats.
So for all of us current expats and for future expats– Let’s lead the way and set an excellent example on how we can respect a culture and bag our trash the Japanese way. When in Rome, be like the Romans, right?? 🙂
A few extra tips on helping cut back on trash!
The 3 Rs! Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.
If you have a few sturdy containers, use them for things around the house. Bring your eco-bags when shopping, and always recycle!
Supermarket Recycle Bins
Most supermarkets will have recycle bins available for milk containers, meat trays, and pet bottles at the entrance. If you don’t want clutter in your apartment, take them with you next time you head to the grocery store.
Train Station Trash Bins
When you finished your soda bottle, or snacks, throw the trash away in the bins found near the ticket gates right then and there.
If you feel a headache coming on after reading about all these trash regulations, we understand.
Yes, it SEEMS like a lot, and yes, you MIGHT feel overwhelmed at first… But- YOU WILL GET THE HANG OF IT!
After awhile, you’ll begin to feel a sense of accomplishment, and the reality of how much trash we throw out will sink in. Without trash separation, it’s quite easy to not be away of just how much we waste, since everything can be crammed into a massive bag with no thought.
Trash separation might be Japan’s way to help us realize our trash usage and gain a sense of responsibility for our planet!
Even though adapting to some parts of Japanese culture might take some time, this is something that will give back– not just to you, not just to trash sorting workers, but also to a cleaner planet!
We are here to help you, so please don’t hesitate to ask us anything. If you have any specific questions regarding trash for the apartments we show you, we’ll let you know everything you need to know. We have full confidence that with a little bit of help (from us and this article!), you can sort and conquer your way through any trash in Tokyo. Happy Trash Sorting! 🙂