The small Japanese town of Kamikatsu, has received inclusive acknowledgement for their extensive recycling effort and commitment to reaching ‘Zero Waste’ status by 2020. From a town where open burning and dumping on farms and mountains, were the most common systems of waste management, now only 20 percent of their waste reaches landfills, while the other 80 percent is responsibly recycled (Eppenbach, 2016).
Zero Waste is the vision to build a society that enjoys a sustainable rubbish-free lifestyle, with no need for incineration or landfill (Sakano, 2015). The ‘Zero Waste’ policy was first developed in 2003 as an interdisciplinary initiative, whereby Kamikatsu exchanged its infamous practice of incineration for a much more environmentally aware sanitation program, in fear of endangering the future of both the environment and the population. Similar to Hino City, a suburb in Tokyo, that implemented a ‘No Waste’ campaign in 2000 to challenge an area with one of the worst recycling rates in Japan (Hill, 2011).
“We are trying to focus more and totally change our lifestyles,” says Akira Sakano, co-founder of the Zero Waste Academy, a non-profit organisation that was established in 2005, as a monitor towards Kamikatsu’s sustainability goals. The Academy also hosts an “Experience ‘Kamikatsu’ Programme” where each year, around 2500 local and foreign visitors are educated on the principles of living a ‘Zero Waste’ lifestyle.
Recycling is now a streamlined process, which the community of 1700, meticulously wash and sort their recyclables into 34 separate categories. A report by The Christian Science Monitor, has likened the town’s waste to an “outdoor filing cabinet”, being the largest of its kind, internationally. What might already seem like a time-consuming and tedious task, the residents also have to transport it to the recycling centre themselves where workers make sure that the waste goes into the correct bins.
Like recycling, reuse is also highly encouraged in Kamikatsu. There is a shop known as a “circular” or a “kuru-kuru” where residents can trade used items for new ones, at no extra costs. And a factory, where unwanted items are repurposed into bags and clothes.
“If you get used to it, it becomes normal,” a Kamikatsu resident said in a YouTube documentary made by Seeker Stories, “It can be a pain, and at first we were opposed to the idea. Now I don’t think about it. It’s become natural to separate the trash correctly.”
Similar to Kamikatsu, cities around the world are also on their way to accomplishing ‘Zero Waste’ eminence. For example, San Diego recently proclaimed to reduce 75 percent of its waste by 2030 and become completely waste-free by 2040 (Environmental Services Department, 2015).