The Incredible Trashless Town of Kamikatsu

Oct 20, 2020 | ESCAPE, GREEN, Japan, NEWS

Kamikatsu, Yamainukake ©Yuki Shimazu

Located in the Tokushima Prefecture, Kamikatsu is a town unlike any other. Here, residents sort their waste perfectly, therefore making it the first ever Zero Waste Town in Japan. You’ll be surprised to know about the simple way they achieved this.

The idyllic town of Kamikatsu in Japan is one of a kind not only because of its rolling mountains, lush trees, and vast tea fields. It’s actually known for something that’s missing in it. As a town, Kamikatsu produces no trash. 

With roughly 1,500 residents, it may come as a surprise that in the 1900s, Kamikatsu didn’t do any recycling. Way back, people used to dump their garbage in nature or simply burn it at home. While it may seem like a good idea, burning garbage creates large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions that endangered the nature around them. Because of this, a unique realization was made which pushed the town of Kamikatsu had to change dramatically. 

The people’s awareness of their waste problem became the beacon of light for their path towards having zero waste. It also paved the way for a new lifestyle for its residents.

What is Zero Waste? 

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, Zero waste refers to the conservation of resources through responsible reuse, recovery, production, and consumption without discharge to the air, land, or water that threatens human health. 

The concept of zero waste in Kamikatsu started in 2003 when the town created its Zero Waste Declaration. What the town’s declaration means is there is no such thing as garbage that’s thrown in the trash. Everything people use has to get recycled. When it was signed, the town set the goal to eliminate waste by 2020 without the help of landfills and incinerators. 

As you may have expected, this policy was hard for people to follow. Residents admit that the time-consuming obligation to separate all their garbage was more of a burden than a blessing. This isn’t surprising since when you grow up so used to not thinking about plastics or other garbage, the town’s classification system may seem so taxing, unnecessary, and most of all, confusing.  However, the town’s intense garbage classification system was the secret to the policy’s success.

To say Kamikatsu’s garbage classification system is aggressive would be an understatement. In this Japanese town, there are 45 recyclable categories. This includes spray cans, steel cans, aluminum cans, fluorescent lights, clothes, metal caps, wooden products, among many others. 

In time, what many residents considered a burden became a habit and a way of life. Residents now look at trash in a new lens, and with this comes a sense of mindfulness over things. Instead of buying plastics, people prefer to get necessities in cardboard boxes since it can be reused in a lot of ways. Throwing every garbage together has also become a thing of the past in Kamikatsu. Even restaurant owners throw away their leftover food in compost instead of leaving it to rot in garbage bins. The leftover food soon becomes the fertilizer for local farms, which grows vegetables that restaurants use. This give-and-take effect perfectly showcases the charm of the program. 

Perhaps it’s difficult for many people to understand the zero waste concept of Kamikatsu without participating in it, but there’s absolutely no doubt that it can improve the lives of many. 

Kamikatsu’s zero waste policy is both strange yet so simple. Residents may need more time to sort their garbage, but this burden is what made it possible for them to gain richness in their mindset.

Can It Be Mirrored by All Cities?

It’s vital to remember that Kamikatsu is a small town, very much unlike New York or Chicago. While policies on waste may differ, there’s one thing that remains constant – people. Specifically, people who are willing to change. 

Thankfully, Kamikatsu is not alone. Other cities have strengthened their commitment to making less waste, including San Diego, which aims to be waste-free by 2040. Just like other social problems, people are rendered powerless if they believe the issue cannot be solved. By changing the perspective of people, as well as improving the network of those involved in the process, any advocacy will foster. 

Keep in mind that plans like these are immensely ambitious, and it would be unrealistic to waste completely disappear in just a couple of years, no matter how effective the government’s strategy is. Over fifteen years after Kamikatsu’s declaration was enacted, over 80 percent of trash end up getting recycled. While it may not be 100 percent, it’s still a very impressive statistic.