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Sorting your garbage according to the rules

Japan takes recycling and garbage separation very seriously and it can be one of the most daunting and confusing things for a newcomer. In this guide, we’ll do our best to help you make sense of it!

The specific rules of garbage separation depend on where you live. It’s either decided by the city, or by the individual ward if you live in a large city. Most cities have an English website where they give the specific rules and you may be given the information when you first register with the local government.

Here are a couple of useful links:

Shinjuku’s website shows what belongs in each section and how to properly clean and prepare the garbage.

Nakano’s website includes a handy list showing how you should separate common objects.

You can see the differences in rules by looking at “batteries”.  Nakano requires you to bring them to collection points, while Shinjuku will collect them.

Garbage should be separated into the following classes

Burnable

The majority of your garbage will be burnable. Food, loose papers, clothing, common trash…essentially if you can realistically burnt it, it probably belongs here.

Put everything in a clear plastic bag so that people can see inside of it.  If garbage collectors find non-burnables inside of the bag, they may not take it. Don’t be surprised if your neighbors also are keeping a close eye on your garbage to make sure it conforms to the local regulations.

Non-Burnable

Ceramics, metal, light bulbs, small electronics, aluminum foil, etc. With non-burnables there is usually a specific pick up date. Check with your building or local ward office.

Recyclables

All recyclables such as paper, cardboard, cans, plastic bottles, glass, batteries, must be sorted and disposed of in the correct containers. Paper and cardboard should be tied up if you are throwing out a lot of it.

Usually cans, plastic bottles, and glass have separate containers which should be obvious at the collection point.  The rest you can put into bags.  You’re supposed to wash out the insides before disposing of them.  For plastic bottles, take off the label (which is burnable) and cap (which is recyclable plastic).

Large Garbage

If you want to throw away larger things, such as appliances, you will have to pay extra money and schedule a pickup. A quick Google search will show you a list of services that can do this. There are also websites where you can sell or give away your unwanted things, such as GaijinPot Classifieds.

It may sound confusing but if you get into the habit of separating your recyclables on a daily basis and you’ll get the hang of it!  You’re helping the environment!

Throwing it Out

The actual garbage collection days depend on where you live and collection points should have a schedule posted.  Different types of garbage are collected on different days, and some are more frequent than others.

To dispose of your garbage, take it to a collection point.  If you live in an apartment complex, there may be a dumpster or room where you can put your garbage down.  Since these are usually covered and away from the public, people tend to just throw their garbage out whenever they want to, although individual building rules may prohibit it.  

If your residence does not have a collection area, then you will have to find the closest public collection point to you. Chances are you will be notified of this when you move in, and collection points will also have schedules posted near them, so you can walk around and look for them. In these cases, you should only bring out your garbage in the morning of the collection day, as putting them out during other times will attract animals and cause problems.  

Your neighborhood association may have people who watch out for those who violate garbage rules, and there will also probably be no shortage of busybodies who will also be keeping an eye on you and possibly even looking at your garbage bag to make sure you don’t have any mis-sorted things inside!  They won’t hesitate to report you if they see you breaking the rules, so don’t think you can get away with it!

The garbage separation system in Japan may seem tedious, but if you can follow them, it’s a major step in becoming comfortable with living in Japan!  Being able to follow rules like these are a major part of adapting to society here!