It has become increasingly obvious in recent years that the amount of waste we as a human species produce is threatening the survival of our planet. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that only 12 percent of plastic waste currently gets recycled, with the remainder being sent to landfill. Here, it takes at least 1,000 years to decompose. Around 270,000 tons of plastic debris are currently contained in our oceans, threatening an estimated 700 marine species with extinction. And without oceanic life, well … the rest of us are pretty much done for. Needless to say, any small move in the direction of ameliorating this scenario is a welcome breath of fresh air.
A village called Kamikatsu, in the mountains of Shikoku Island in south-west Japan, is aiming to be the country’s first “Zero Waste” community by 2020. Kamikatsu declared its no-waste ambition in 2003 after the town ended its practice of dumping trash into an open fire for fear of damaging the environment and townspeople. It now recycles about 80 percent of its trash, with only 20 percent going to landfill. This level of progress has been achieved in only twelve years! So how did they do it?
Kamikatsu has no garbage trucks, meaning that each resident must wash, sort, and bring their own trash to the recycling center. A worker oversees the sorting process at this center, ensuring that each piece of trash goes into the right bin (when trash is placed into the wrong bin, this significantly impairs the efficiency of the recycling process). Newspapers and magazines have to be piled into bundles.
Some items that can still be used are removed from the trash sorting system and taken to local businesses, where they are resold or repurposed into clothing, toys, and accessories. Kamikatsu even has a number of “recycling stores” – filled with re-usable items taken out of the trash sorting process – where residents can call in and take home anything they like, free of charge! These are known as “kuru-kuru” (“circular”) shops. There is also a “kuru-kuru” factory in the town, where local women make bags and clothes out of discarded garments.
A free-of-charge recycling store certainly sounds like a fantastic idea to us!
These facilities are managed by Kamikatsu’s Zero Waste Academy. This academy regularly hosts groups of visiting schoolchildren from the local area and further afield. In recent years, it has received a growing level of foreign visitors and organizations as well. An estimated 2,500 visitors a year now travel to Kamikatsu, inspired by its waste-free aspirations.
Check out the video below to see this awesome town in action:
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All image source: Niume