Separating your trash in Japan can be a confusing task. Not only do you have to separate everything into different categories, but those categories change depending on where you are in Japan. On top of that, you have to remember what days each category of waste is collected.
This can all be quite overwhelming and hard to pin down, so here we’ll take a look at the basics for how to separate your trash in Japan.
Categories for sorting trash
Although trash is separated differently depending on where you are in Japan, or even where you are within a city, there are four main categories for sorting trash:
- Burnable (combustible)
- Non-burnable (non-combustible)
So what garbage goes into each category? To make things easier, we’ll use Shinjuku ward as an example, as it has one of the highest foreign populations in Tokyo.
Burnable garbage is of course, anything that can be burnt. This includes things like Kitchen scraps, paper scraps, wood chips, plastic that has no プラ (pura) or ペット (PET) mark, and other common household waste.
Non-burnable garbage is anything else that is not recyclable. This includes metal, ceramics, and glass. That includes things like light bulbs and umbrellas.
Oversized garbage is anything that measures over 30cm, like furniture and small electronics, but not appliances like washing machines. For appliances like washing machines and TVs, you need to take them back to the original store for disposal, or contact the electric appliance recycling center.
Recyclable garbage is a little more tricky, as it is separated into more categories, so let’s take a look at those categories.
Still using Shinjuku as an example, recyclable trash is separated as below:
- Plastic with the プラ (pura) mark
- Unbroken bottles
- Batteries and aerosols
- PET bottles
In Shinjuku, you might find that there are different colored boxes or nets outside your apartment building for trash disposal. According to the Shinjuku City living information, bottles go in the yellow containers; cans in the blue containers; spray cans, gas cassettes, and dry-cell batteries in the green containers; and plastic PET bottles in the blue nets. This is just an example, and the colors and systems might be different in your ward, so make sure to check before putting the trash out.
Taking out the garbage
When taking out the trash in Japan, there are some things to keep in mind. Most of the rules for preparation are to do with safety, cleanliness, or convenience.
For example, stacks of paper should be tied with a string to stop pieces from blowing away. Broken glass should be wrapped carefully in thick paper, and marked “危険” or “きけん”, meaning “dangerous”. Any plastic or other items that had food on them should be washed before disposal.
Within Tokyo, you do not need to use a specific bag for waste disposal, so a sturdy transparent or semi-transparent plastic bag is fine. But you can buy large garbage bags at 100-yen shops and supermarkets.
Outside of Tokyo, many areas require you to use a designated garbage bag, and may even require different bags for different items (e.g. a transparent bag for bottles). You can buy these at convenience stores and supermarkets.
These are just a few of the things that are required when taking out the trash, so take a look at the information from your municipality, or use this information from Shinjuku ward as a guideline. Generally speaking, if something seems dangerous or unsanitary, there is probably a particular way that you should dispose of it.
When and where do I take out my garbage?
Each municipality has different set days for garbage collection, and each apartment building has a slightly different system for where to put the garbage.
Generally speaking, each category of recyclable garbage is collected once a week, combustibles are collected twice a week, and non-combustibles are collected twice a month.
As for apartments, there is usually a designated point outside the apartment building where you can leave your garbage for collection. This may simply be on the side of the road, covered by a netting, or it may be in a small shed-like structure with doors.
Some apartments will have the garbage collection schedule posted on a board or near the collection area, but many will not, so it is best to find the information online, or ask your estate agent for one when you move in.
How do I find the garbage collection rules for my neighborhood?
Now that you know the specifics of taking out the trash in Japan, you’ve probably also realized that it’s best to check the details of how to do so in your own region.
The easiest way to find out the schedules and separation guidelines is to ask your estate agent or landlord. They will often give you an information pack when you move in, and a new schedule is usually sent out to all residents at the start of each year. You can also go to the ward office or town hall to find out this information.
Otherwise, you can simply search “Garbage collection in [your town]” online, or look for the information on your region’s website.
If you live in Tokyo, here is a list of websites for each of the Tokyo municipalities. Please note that you will be directed to the municipality’s site in Japanese.
Stick to the rules and keep it clean, and your neighbors and landlord will thank you for it!