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The `Zero Waste' project: Town turns recycling into way of life

By KENICHI ARITA The Asahi Shimbun

KAMIKATSU, Tokushima Prefecture-Waste not, Want Not. It might be the motto of this small mountain town in Tokushima Prefecture. Here, there are no garbage trucks.

What household garbage town residents don't turn into compost, they  carry themselves to a collection facility, separating out the reusable and recyclable items. The town's goal is to eliminate waste by 2020.

This no-waste movement dates back to 2001, when a garbage incinerator built in the town in 1998 failed to meet dioxin control standards. Then Mayor Yoshio Yamada decided to shut down the incinerator in the interest of preventing further environmental pollution.  Eventually this led to the ``Zero Waste project,'' which was announced at a town assemblymeeting this September.

In Kamikatsu, waste is sorted into 34 categories, such as aluminum cans,  PET bottles, diapers, newspapers and leaflets, and batteries.

In fiscal 2002, as much as 79 percent of the town's garbage was recycled. In fiscal 2000, the national average for municipalities was  about 14 percent.

 ``Kamikatsu definitely is one of the top (recycling) municipalities,''  said an official of the Environment Ministry's Waste Management Division.

Also impressed by Kamikatsu's recycling efforts was Paul Connett, a  chemistry professor from St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York,  who visited the town in July to inspect the garbage facility. Connett  noted that other municipal governments in the nation would do well to follow Kamikatsu's example.

Connett, who specializes in environmental chemistry, lectures worldwide on the subject of incinerator-free communities. He advised town officials to set 2020 as the target year to achieve their goal, emulating cities such as San Francisco.

Since it announced its intention to eliminate waste in March 2001, the town has worked tirelessly to improve the environment. In that spirit, following the advice of Connett, Mayor Kazuichi Kasamatsu submitted a proposal to the town assembly in September, suggesting the council set a target year to achieve its goal. Unanimously approved, the proposal states, ``The town promotes reusable and recyclable waste and will do all it can to eliminate incineration and landfill by 2020.''

Surrounded by mountains as high as 1,500 meters, Kamikatsu, with a population of only about 2,000, is an hour's drive from Tokushima. The Hibigatani Gomi Station, where residents can drop off their garbage almost every day between 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., is the town's only trash collection facility. Because there are no garbage trucks, residents are obliged to take their garbage to the facility.

The town hires residents to work at the 120-square-meter prefab facility to instruct others how to separate their trash.

More than 10 containers placed outside the facility and bins inside the center bear labels with the words ``aluminum cans'' and ``transparent  bottles'' and the like.

The labels also indicate what the waste materials are recycled into, such as ``construction materials'' and ``raw materials for glass.''

 ``I separate my trash at home. If it's reused properly, I'm motivated to follow the town's rule,'' said Kimiyo Imoto, a 57-year-old homemaker.

With the exception of large items and tires, the facility accepts 29 types of garbage every day. The town also offers subsidies to most households to purchase a device to turn kitchen scraps into compost.

 ``In Saitama Prefecture, where I'm from, garbage is sorted out roughly between combustible and noncombustible waste,'' said Chiaki Hasegawa, a 20-year-old part-time worker at the town's welfare council. ``At first, I felt the procedure was cumbersome, but it eventually became routine. I now tend to buy items that have less packaging.''

Kamikatsu's combustible waste is taken to another prefecture and disposed of there. The town cut the overall amount of combustible waste it produced to about 61 tons in fiscal 2002, from about 136 tons in fiscal 1998. Meanwhile, over the same period, disposal costs have surged to 292 yen per kilogram from 56 yen.

However, town officials are still discussing what to do with waste that is hard to recycle, like old leather shoes. But they have an idea.

 ``The key is not only to separate materials when disposing of them but also to select reusable items when purchasing,'' Mayor Kasamatsu said.

According to one town official, ``The answer may lie in the hands of the manufacturers that produce the goods.''

Town officials offered the example of cylinder-shaped packages made of metal and paper, like those used for potato chips. The paper is difficult to reuse because it is glued together and reinforced. And it's hard to separate the metal bottom from the rest of the container. Although the container is basically made of reusable materials, it gets tossed out as combustible waste.

Officials will likely ask the central and prefectural governments to enforce laws or ordinances prohibiting companies from making goods that cannot be reused or recycled.

 ``Recycling won't happen without manufacturer cooperation,'' Kasamatsu  said.(IHT/Asahi: December 16,2003) (12/16)


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