Waste selection in China and Japan

In the previous article, we described generally waste collection in China, which is done by just a few companies. All households put their waste in a single box or transport it to a small building, where the waste is roughly combusted and the ash is transported to a depot. Paper and plastic are also placed in general waste boxes or are simply put in front of doors. People see the waste and take it to collection points, which pay some money to the people who brought the waste.

At the end of last year, we visited Japan, a two-hour flight from China, and found the other extreme. Not a single waste box could be found on the streets. When purchasing a drink in a plastic bottle from a vending machine, a waste box for these plastic bottles sits near the machine. Sometimes there is one box for the bottle and a second box for the screw cap, which is normally another piece of plastic. I experienced the extreme situation at Starbucks. The coffee bowl is composed of a basic bowl made from paper and wax, and comes with a plastic cap, a pap ring to carry the bowl with hot coffee in it, and a drinking straw. Each of these components had a separate bag for disposal. Watching the puzzled foreigners as they stood in front of this arrangement was quite interesting.

Separating out waste by type as precisely as possible is certainly going in the right direction, as this process results in the best preconditions for a higher class of reused materials. Nevertheless, I believe that the arrangements used in Japan exceed practicality. Let us attempt to define a priority list of things to be done to eliminate waste and to use the waste as a resource for making highly qualified materials.

  1. Reuse of all types of containers should always have first priority.
  2. Items should be designed out of one material or a single material group, which can then be put into a recycling circle as a single piece.
  3. Selection processes, for example, for plastic using infrared radiation should be further developed and used. The result will be greater reliability than selecting plastics by many different people.
  4. Combustion should be always eliminated.

In summary, we must seek practical processes for the collection of waste. China’s present selection method is unreliable. Japan’s selection method is impractical. A good waste selection system, in my opinion, falls in the middle of these two extremes.

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