Even as a tourist casually wandering the streets of Japan, you’ll quickly realise there is a vast lack of rubbish (ゴミ or Gomi in Japanese) bins in both city and more rural areas. Typically, only found at train stations, convenience stores and some parks, people usually carry their trash with them until they find that golden treasure, a garbage disposal unit.
So why is this a ‘thing’ in Japan? The easy answer is due to a recent Sarin Gas attack on March 20, 1995 – where 5 members of an eclectic group known as ‘Aum Shinrikyo’ (a religious cult with teachings loosely based on science fiction), used bins throughout Tokyo to disperse a deadly agent across the subway network during rush hour. The individuals responsible wrapped plastic bags full of the toxic substance and wrapped them in newspapers placed strategically across bins in Tokyo to spread the gas. The results of this lethal act left 12 people dead and thousands more injured.
Fast forward almost 20 years later and most bins have been removed from plain sight, due to fear of public safety. Furthermore, with the spike in tourism and approaching Olympics, Japan is reluctant to change its act for fear of a repeat incident.
Of course, if you ask any local about the issue they will just explain it is natural to carry your own rubbish with you. In an age where Environmental issues are front and centre, this may surprise you even in today’s modern Japan.
So what should one do in the case that you have accumulated an excessive amount of garbage? The first thing to understand is how Japanese generally dispose of their rubbish.
First of all, next to many 自動販売機 (じどうはんばいき or Jidouhanbaiki) or ‘vending machines’ you can generally find a container for recycling. This is specifically for plastic (PET) bottles and aluminium cans only, so please do not try to dispose of any other items in these bins.
The other way Japan likes to separate its garbage typically into 燃える (もえる or Moeru) which is for combustible waste and 燃えない (もえない or Moenai) which they use for incombustible waste, simply are things which are burnable and things which are not.
As an example, of burnable waste includes food scraps, rubber items, wood and plant waste, olden plastic toys and goods like toothbrushes, bowls and the like.
On the other hand, incombustible scraps include leftover electric light bulbs, batteries, gas cylinders, broken plates and glass waste, metal knives, bottle caps, electric devices and similar waste.
Generally, Japan will try to recycle glass bottles (びん or Bin), plastic (PET) bottles (ペットボトル or Petto Botoru), aluminium cans (かん or Kan), paper and cardboard.