Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

Tips for Zero-Waste – Kamikatsu vs San Francisco

San Francisco’s Robert Reed and Kamikatsu’s Akira Sakano think Zero-Waste is an attainable goal. Neither destination will make the 2020 target of zero waste, but have achieved impressive levels of 80% when the rest of Japan and the US are at 30%. Let’s have a look at the strategies which are most effective in reducing waste.

Kamikatsu, a town of 1500 in the hills of Tokushima prefecture on Shikoku island in Japan, and the Northern California metropolis of San Francisco with a population of 884,000 have something in common- they were both aiming to be zero-waste by 2020.

Akira Sakano, Director of the Zero-Waste Academy in Kamikatsu told me that zero-waste is a journey, not a destination- we have to have goals and be actively working toward them. At my last Kamikatsu check-in, the town was at an impressive level of 81% zero-waste- this means they are sorting, reusing and recycling a majority of the town’s waste and only 20% goes to landfill.

Let’s look at some of the key initiatives which help this community achieve the highest rates in Japan:

  • 100% Composting – all residents must compost their own kitchen waste to be used in gardens and farms.
  • Central Waste sorting station – there have never been garbage pick-ups in Kamikatsu and no landfill, there is also no incinerator. All residents and local businesses must bring their garbage to the sorting station in the center of the town where the staff helps them sort it into 45 categories.
  • Transparency – the NGO Zero Waste Academy staff work closely with the local community as well as the government officials to make the initiatives run more smoothly.
  • Kuru-Kuru Reuse Shop – 2 kinds of reuse shops are in Kamikatsu- one at the waste sorting facility for usable items to be picked up and reused freely (FREECYCLE) and an UPCYCLE shop where waste materials are recreated into sellable products. The upcycling initiative creates jobs and income for elderly residents adding a layer of social support.
  • Manufacturer collaboration – the zero-waste academy (ZWA) is actively communicating with product manufacturers on difficulties with reusing and recycling their products in hopes this information will improve design and waste problems.
  • Zero-Waste shops and accreditation – cafes, restaurants, and breweries are selling goods to consumers without packaging- encouraging them to bring their own reusable containers. The ZWA has created an accreditation map of businesses following these initiatives, detailing how they are doing so.
  • Provide reusable containers to events and festivals held in Kamikatsu.

Kamikatsu receives 3000 plus visitors each year from within Japan as well as internationally- people looking for answers to their waste management woes. Wondering how many of these initiatives could be adopted by their communities.

San Francisco made headlines in 2002 when it set the ambitious goal to be Zero-Waste by 2020, and had diverted 80% of its waste by 2012.

Let’s look at some of the key initiatives in San Francisco to reach this level of waste reduction :

Links to information above on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website.

San Francisco has been under fire for not meeting its ambitious target of zero-waste by 2020 and has made a new target to reach the goal by 2030. But like Kamikatsu diverting 80% of waste from landfill when the rest of the country (both Japan and the US) are at an average rate of 30% should be applauded and similar targets and strategies emulated by other townships.

Targets, initiative, and policymaking may be out of the hands of everyday folk, but there are ways consumers can change how we live our lives to help reduce waste.

The video below is from December of 2018 from a San Francisco Bay area news broadcast about the city’s zero-waste initiatives. It features an eco-expert Robert Reed of the waste sorting facility in the city, Recology, as he did his weekly shopping. There are takeaways here we can apply to our daily shopping habits: