Sorting trash into 32 categories
It is humankind's duty to protect the environment and leave it in better condition for future generations-a task that will require the combined effort and creativity of each and every individual. The city of Hekinan, which claims the distinction of being number one in Japan for separating trash, embraces this ideal.
In this coastal industrial city facing Mikawa Bay, the refuse collection site in a residential neighborhood has an atmosphere as lively as a morning market. Conversation flies back and forth: " This bottle's blue, so I should put it in this container, right?" "That's a vinegar bottle, so it goes in that container" " Oops! Oh, that's right. Thanks."
The city of Hekinan divides household rubbish into 32 categories. Nearly all of the people gathered at the trash collection site in the early morning have separated their trash at home before coming. Although this is a somewhat bothersome task, hardly any complaints are heard.
Exchanges like this could take place on any given day in any neighborhood in Japan, but Hekinan differs from other places in several ways. First, there are many more containers to place the trash. Shigeyuki Sugiura, head of environmental affairs at the city office, explains, " We separate recyclable refuse into as many subcategories as possible. Just for empty bottles, we have seven categories, based on color and how they were used." Although collecting and separating trash to recycle and reduce the volume of waste is an established practice nationwide, Hekinan separates its trash into finer categories than anywhere else. In all, the city has 32 categories of waste: 26 for recyclable trash, plus 5 categories for large refuse and one for burnable trash. In terms of the thoroughness with which it separates trash, Hekinan outdoes all other municipalities in Japan.
"Since 1994, when we adopted this system, we've held a total of 200 meetings to explain its significance to citizens," said Sugiura. "We've gone out and held these meetings whenever we were asked: town meetings; meetings of women's groups; corporate meetings, you name it."
While this effort by the local government merits praise, the key players in the trash collection and separation program are the 20,000 households and 67,000 citizens of Hekinan. The government can issue a call to action, but without the cooperation of the principal actors--the citizens--nothing will happen. The people of Hekinan have a more progressive attitude toward the idea of collecting and separating trash than had initially been expected.
"It's necessary, there's no question about it, "said one citizen.
"It's a bit of a chore, but if it's useful in reducing the volume of trash, then I'm glad to do it," said another.
And so the people of Hekinan have united in the task of improving their surrounding environment, and they have found a way to do so that integrates seamlessly into their everyday lives.
Promoting "Nagoya Rules"
Another prime example of a citizen-centered effort to reduce the volume of waste and promote recycling can be found in Chubu Recycle, a citizens' group headquartered in Nagoya, Aichi's capital. The organization was formed in 1980 by Yoshiyuki Hagiwara, who remains its leader.
Hagiwara explained his motive for founding the group: "I felt that there must be things we citizens can do to reduce the volume of trash. Rather than push the responsibility off on someone else, we should do it ourselves. Everyone should get involved. I thought that kind of action is important."
Based on this fundamental philosophy, the association has drafted its own waste reduction plan, known as Nagoya Rules, to promote a citizen-based, regionwide recycling program. The plan calls for reducing the volume of trash discarded in the city by 300,000 tons by 2001. Nagoya, a city of 2.17 million people, is expected to generate almost 1.1 million tons of waste in 2000, so the reduction target would mean a 28% reduction from current levels. To achieve this target, Chubu Recycle proposes several specific actions; these include setting up recycling stations, creating a citizens' information network, and conducting a public education campaign aimed at getting people to throw away less.
Chubu Recycle's many related activities include publishing a recycling newsletter, planning and running a local flea market geared toward reuse and recycling, and selling recycled goods.
"To build the foundation for a recycling program," said Hagiwara, "you need to get citizens involved."
The proposals outlined in Nagoya Rules have drawn attention from outside Japan as a viable world standard for waste reduction. The report was nominated for the World Project at Expo 2000, which will take place in Hanover, Germany. The World Project is an international effort to pool knowledge that has the potential to solve the problems faced by humankind and promote sustainable development in the twenty-first century and to share this knowledge worldwide. Of the approximately 400 entries the project received from countries around the world, a rigorous review process resulted in the selection of 126. Nagoya Rules was one of them. And so, in June 2000, Nagoya Rules will make its debut in Hanover, and from there, the plan will be disseminated throughout the world.
Many children in Aichi enthusiastically take part in activities that bring them face to face with nature and that give them a chance to nurture a rich natural environment on their own.
For example, plantings of oak seedlings have been organized every fall since 1996 at a Boy Scout camp in the city of Shinshiro. This is an attempt to restore the lushly green forest that existed there before pine weevils decimated the pine trees that had once grown on the mountainside.
A total of 68 children have assembled here at a Boy Scout camp in the city of Shinshiro to plant oak trees on a damaged mountainside. Every year, children plant some 200 oak trees with their own hands. By the time the seedlings reach maturity, the children may be grandfathers and grandmothers.
This project is jointly organized by the Committee to Increase Greenery in Aichi Prefecture and the Aichi Council of Boy Scouts Japan, but the ones who are walking up and down the mountain and planting seedlings are schoolchildren aged 10 to 12 who are participating on their own initiative. Over the past three years, about 350 oaks of different varieties have been planted on the 0.5-hectare plot.
"The trees will take at least around 60 years to reach maturity," said a representative of one of the sponsoring organizations with a smile. "So the kids are planting the forest as a legacy for their grandchildren." The kids, though, who work up a healthy sweat as they plant the young oaks, take their endeavor very seriously.
As the children talked about measuring the growth of trees planted in previous years, their eyes sparkled with enthusiasm: "I'm looking forward to next year" said one. "I hope they get big fast!" said another. Considered alongside the measures to enhance greenery taken by the Aichi Prefectural Government, this project is merely a drop in the bucket. But the lessons on the importance of greenery, and the hard work it takes to create a forest, are etched indelibly in the children's minds.
Daily monitoring of water quality
The next stop on this environmental tour of Aichi is an elementary school in the mountainous sections of Toyota, famous for its automobile factories. The students of this school devised and initiated an environmental activity that has continued for 24 years.
Nishihirose Elementary School is a city-run public school with just 44 pupils in the first through sixth grades. The 19 students in the fifth and sixth grade are engaged in an environmental activity that they work on every day, without fail. (Yes, every day--even during summer vacation and the New Year's holidays!. The students do this by taking turns.) Their activity is monitoring the quality of the water in the nearby Yahagi River.
Nineteen fifth and sixth graders take turns checking the water quality every day. No matter what the weather is like--windy, rainy, or worse--they never miss a day. So far, water quality checks have been performed over 8,500 times.
As the school principal, Masayuki Sugiura, explains, "Since long ago, the Yahagi River has been like a mother to the people of this region, supplying water for drinking and for irrigation, as well as an abundant variety of fish. For children, it was the ideal place to fish and play. But starting around the mid-1960s, industrial waste and other pollutants fouled the water, and the Yahagi became a neglected river with sludge-lined banks. Seeing the river in this condition, the children of those days wanted to do something to restore it to its natural state of beauty. And so, on their own initiative, they devised and implemented a plan to clean up the river and monitor water quality. The project has been continued by successive generations of students, and it's still going on today."
The results of the water quality testing are sent immediately to the city office, where officials use them as a guide in making policies to protect water quality. And local newspapers report the figures on a regular basis, so the data gathered by the students plays a key role in boosting public awareness of environmental preservation. This project, which started with a simple wish by some children to clean up a river, has captured the hearts of people throughout the region, leading to a citywide river-beautification effort.
Two important themes of the 2005 World Exposition Aichi, Japan, are "living in harmony with nature" and "citizen participation." In Aichi Prefecture, these principles and ideals have already taken root in the hearts of citizens--including children.
(Photos by Wataru Mukai, Text by Masaki Yamada)