Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

BRIDGE: Katie O’Brien Aims for Zero-Waste in Tokyo

Katie O’Brien is a plastic-waste reduction guru who runs the IG site Eco.De.Iko. Katie started her mission to lead a plastic-free existence in Tokyo in 2018 prompted by joining the Australian Plastic Free July campaign last year and just kept going.

AUDIO PODCAST:

Katie was recently the focus of a Japanese Asahi TV profile on plastic pollution in Japan. In that video, you can see the seminar Katie does with young Japanese people about how to live a plastic-free life in Japan. Some people in the video look shocked by the idea, but some say it was inspiring to them and they hope to give it a try too.

Katie’s plastic-free journey started in July of 2018 when she joined the Australian initiative and tried to refuse as much plastic as possible. Transparency is key to believability, so she documented all the plastic at the end of each day with pictures posted on her IG account.

At the end of July, she said she was convinced that she couldn’t go back to her old ways and has now successfully completed a year of living virtually plastic-free. Despite the daunting challenge of living plastic-free, Katie is still able to work and live in Japan without too many compromises.

Katie has amazing positive energy and enthusiasm for this cause, but I’m sure it’s a constant struggle to fight against the tide of convenience and plastic overpackaging ‘Omotenashi’ service culture. It must get tiresome.

Katie admitted that now that she has finished a year, she’s considering whether to continue or not. We are cheering for you Katie- so please don’t stop!

Katie is an important trailblazer in Japan who is making such a significant contribution to the plastic-free and zero-waste lifestyle movement. I predict that by year’s end we will see more and more zero-waste leaders emerge thanks to her leadership and diligence.

In the video interview, we discuss plastic problems, solutions and advice for others seeking zero-waste targets.

I was interested to learn that it is possible in Japan where we are inundated with plastic upon plastic upon plastic in everything we need to buy every day. This reminds me of the talk I had with European visitors to Miyajima who were shocked by the excessive amounts of plastic they were given in Japan.

To be honest, I thought I was doing enough as I have completely cut out PET plastic drink bottles and single-use plastics wherever possible. By doing this, we’ve been able to reduce our plastic garbage by 50% to one large bag every two weeks (instead of 1 every week). Talking with Katie, however, has inspired me to do more and look more closely at ways we could further reduce plastics.

I’m now inspired to start email campaigns with companies and shop managers to discuss ways to reduce plastic waste given to customers. Shops such as COSTCO could take back (and reuse) their plastic packaging- at least in the bakery since it’s made on the premises. I’ve also dusted off the bread machine and started baking bread daily again to reduce plastic wrapping. I have renewed enthusiasm to seek out new stores that offer packaging-free shopping and eateries that offer reusable plates and utensils or allows me to use my own containers for take-out. I’ll continue organizing monthly plastic cleanups to help take some plastic waste out of the environment as well.

Every target, every challenge, every request is a step in the right direction.

Anyone who is skeptical that it can be done can see the transparency that Katie had in showing pictures of the plastic she used each day as she took the PLASTIC FREE JULY challenge and continued her journey over the year. Her IG page is also a great resource to learn tips and tricks to a successful plastic-free lifestyle on Eco De Iko (which means ‘Let’s Be Ecological’ in Japanese).

I’m so inspired and impressed by Katie’s dedication. Her advice to anyone who is getting started with reducing plastic in their lives is to “start with small steps”- you don’t have to buy all the newest and coolest zero-waste gear, just take reusable containers and cutlery from home to use on the go.

A key takeaway here is to start with simple things and keep trying. Politely asking store staff if it is possible to reuse your own containers, or buy something without packaging, or order something without plastic are all important aspects of starting a conversation, and spreading awareness, as well as reducing plastic waste.

Katie says she and her husband have a certain route and set of cafes, stores, and places that they often go to which now easily cater to serving the products they need without plastic. There is an element of creating demand for plastic-free goods like this amongst business owners who, if savvy, will see the benefits of catering to customers who are striving to live a zero-waste life. For business owners, reducing plastic should also reduce costs while tapping into this growing consumer trend.

Big thanks to Katie O’Brien for talking with me and sharing her insights and advice about zero-waste living. I look forward to following up with another interview in a few months to see if things have improved and to talk more specifically about stores and brands in Japan which are easier to use if seeking a zero-waste life.