More efficient use of resources and better waste policies could boost the economy as well as reaping manifold environmental benefits, according to an inaugural white paper on waste-reduction approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday.

The report features new research suggesting that more efficient use of energy and resources, allied to a jump in the rate of recycling, will lead to a drop in the aggregate amount of waste produced by the nation.

This would reduce waste processing fees by a quarter, trim greenhouse gas emissions and could ultimately boost gross domestic product by 6 trillion yen beyond business-as-usual projections to 637 trillion yen in 2010, according to the document.

In order to achieve a more sustainable, recycling-intensive society, however, more responsible behavior and heightened awareness among the public and groups is necessary, the document says.

It also says Japan can learn valuable lessons from its past in this regard.

The Environment Ministry treatise traces the history of waste in relation to civilization, citing the explosion of waste generated in the wake of industrialization.

It focuses on the Edo Period as a model for waste policies.

The paper details the resourcefulness of this period, noting the proliferation of recycle and repair shops, such as for umbrellas and cooking ware. It also emphasizes the era’s cyclical use of resources, including the regular collection of sewage by farmers, who would then use it as fertilizer.

The treatise also contains the most recent municipal and industrial waste data, which indicate that municipal waste production edged up in 1998, while industrial waste dropped slightly in 1999.

The amount of industrial garbage generated dropped nearly 1.7 percent in 1999 from the previous year to nearly 408 million tons, 30 percent of which originated in the Kanto region.

But municipal waste headed in the opposite direction in 1998, posting a seventh straight year of increase.

Japanese residents generated 51.6 million tons of garbage a year — or 1.1 kg per person per day — according to the ministry. This is enough garbage to fill the Tokyo Dome 139 times and the most municipal waste produced since records were first kept in the 1960s.

On a more positive note, recycling rose for the 10th consecutive year to account for 12.1 percent of total waste, according to the report.

But industrial waste landfills around the country remained precariously close to bursting point.

On average, these sites will be full within 40 months, while those in the Kanto region will be jammed in less than 10 months at current waste output levels, the ministry said.

The white paper is the first on recycling and waste, written as mandated by the Basic Law for Establishing a Recycling-based Society adopted in May 2000.

The report reiterates the basic principles of this law, prioritizing reduction and reuse and designating recycling and disposal as choices of last resort.

The recycling-based society law and a spate of other waste-related laws passed or revised last year will underpin the nation’s attempt to shift to a more sustainable recycling-intensive society.

These laws include measures to promote the recycling of food and construction materials, as well as the purchasing of environmentally friendly products.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.