Waste Disposal and Recycling in Japan

Waste, garbage, rubbish and trash: find out more about waste disposal and recycling in Japan...

Japan has a highly organised garbage disposal system which places much emphasis on household recycling. The Ministry of the Environment is ultimately responsible for setting policy on waste disposal, but collection is managed at a subprefectural or ward level. Each subprefecture and ward has different rules, which are typically made available in English on local authority websites in larger cities.

There is no additional tax for garbage collection: funding for the system comes from the sale of coloured garbage bags. It is necessary to use garbage bags specific to the local area and the type of waste being disposed of. These can be bought in local shops and supermarkets.

Collection dates can be found on the website of the local authority, and garbage should only be put out on collection days. Collection schedules can also be found at designated garbage collection points. Landlords are responsible for telling tenants where these are, and for giving them general disposal instructions. In most subprefectures, non-recyclable waste is collected once or twice a week, while recyclables are typically collected on a weekly basis.

Types of Waste

Waste must be separated into categories and placed in the correct bag ahead of collection. Disposal bags are semi-transparent, allowing garbage collectors to see whether the contents have been correctly sorted. Categories vary slightly between municipalities, but the most important are:

  • Recyclables: varies between prefectures. Includes paper, glass and cans
  • PET bottles: recyclable bottles with the PET symbol
  • Combustible waste: non-recyclables that can be burnt
  • Noncombustible waste: non-recyclables that cannot be burnt
  • Bulky waste: furniture, appliances and other items that cannot be placed in a garbage bag

Many subprefectures do not separate recyclables and PET bottles, and some do not separate combustible and noncombustible waste.

Combustible waste, which is burnt at waste-to-energy plants, includes kitchen waste, grass, wood and used kitchen towels. It should be drained of liquid before disposal. Non-combustible waste includes metals, ceramics, non-recyclable glass and styrofoam.

Bulky waste, such as tables and fridges, must be placed at the garbage collection point with a processing sticker. These stickers, which vary in price according to the item in question, can be bought at certain municipal offices. These are listed in the guidelines issued by the subprefecture or ward. Many appliances will be collected upon request by the store from which they were bought under the conditions of the Home Appliance Recycling Law.