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A year ago, I heard about a little town in Japan that was “Zero Waste” called Kamikatsu. As I had just moved across the ocean to live in this country for a year, I put a visit to this place on my wishlist. One year later I was able to fulfil it. Why was travelling 2 hours into the forest from Tokushima city so worth it? I was going to visit the place that recycled 79% of their waste (compared to 20% for the rest of Japan). Here is what I took away:

Recycling works with communication and community

Kamikatsu is a town that, in 2003, had an aging population of 1600 people. There were no waste collection trucks and people were throwing waste into the forest for open incineration. Today there is a pick up service every 2 months that is covered by subsidy so elderly people can segregate their rubbish and have it picked up. Not only is it helpful, it is something they look forward to, they are expecting to meet with the collectors. This did not happen in one night, it took years for 2 officers to educate people one by one, once again forming relationships. The whole community is now on board and they all separate what they don’t need into 45 segregation categories. How can they manage to have a pick up service only every 2 months? There is work to be done before we get to recycling.

Reusing is key to Zero Waste

Sending all our rubbish to be recycled is not sustainable if we do just that. We need to cut down from the upper stream and reduce our consumption by reusing what is already available. Kamikatsu started a “Reuse Center” called the Kuru-Kuru Shop. The inhabitants of Kamikatsu can bring their items to be displayed and anyone (even visitors) can take them home. In 2016, around 15 tons of items were brought in and the same amount was taken away to be repurposed by someone who needed it. The initiative went even further by implementing a Craft Center to reuse fabrics and steamers that were out of use. Elder women can get some income while contributing to the circular cycle and finding treasures out of waste.

Photo: Aude Geant

Reducing should be our focus

Photo: Aude Geant

We have got used to recycling, we are being taught to reuse but now it’s time to reduce. Kamikatsu knew that it was hard to get away from a & capitalist society so they worked backwards. 1st bettering the recycling system, then putting in place a market for reused items & finally tackled the question of “reducing”. The Zero Waste Accreditation System was put in place to further control waste generation. Stores could now be certified to heighten zero waste consciousness and encourage customers to reward these businesses. I was able to have lunch at one of the certified restaurants. To reduce meat consumption they offered vegan & vegetarian meals. They reduced food waste by using a composting system. To reduce plastic they used wood and leaves and towels. The Polestar restaurant as well as the Rise & Win brewery use local produce and make sure to encourage locals to do the same

You have to start somewhere

Japan is known to be a culture of wrapping (to represent cleanliness) but Kamikatsu is working to show that clean does not mean plastic and safe is not equal to wrapped. Kamikatsu is not yet zero waste and they have many things to better but what I learned there is that when you start something, you can slowly change your community and inspire others to do the same. In talking with Akira Sakano from the Zero Waste Academy, she told me they are working with other global Zero waste communities and looking for ways to become even more sustainable. The next step is getting people to use cloth diapers by giving them kits as well as using cotton sanitary pads. Further down the line, bulk shops are also what they aim for. Kamikatsu taught me that we won’t get anywhere unless we start, I look forward to watching their journey and continuing mine. Lets make what seems extraordinary ordinary.

Ines Yabar

About Ines Yabar

Inés is a sustainability advocate that uses her degree in communications to share her passion for the planet. Some of her main hobbies include making DIY products and doing beach cleanups.