Life in Tokyo

Dealing with trash in Japan

No metaphors here, I’m talking dealing with garbage, literally.

In light of the regulations on recycling recently introduced in Malaysia, my jorno friend texted and asked me how recycling’s like in Japan.

I figured it would be interesting to write it so that I can remember when I return.


I learned the concepts of recycling on a kids channel on Astro in the late 1990s (“Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!” anyone?). I’m not that avid of recycler back in Malaysia, but I try to support environmental sustainability by separating papers, cans and bottles before sending them to the recycling center just a 1-minute drive from my place.

I’ve to recycle on another level in Japan, though.

Recycling is part of everyone’s lives. It’s compulsory. When I moved into TIEC, I received the Tokyo International Exchange Center Resident’s Guide, one part explained how we’re supposed to separate trash and paper/bottles/can and discard them properly.

Reza, who was here with me during my 1st week, already a pro, guided me on the whole process.

Dealing with garbage at home

All garbage needs to be segregated in their categories. Reza explained how I was supposed to deal with them and showed me how to do it:

  • For all garbage waste, to place them in a plastic bag and tie.
  • For burnable waste like paper, to get them flattened and stacked.
  • For non-burnable waste like plastic bottles and cans, to have them emptied and cleaned, (removing every wrapper and cap is necessary rupanya) and cans and flatten them, before placing them in separate plastic bags.
  • For other hazardous things, like glass or batteries, to segregate them in another bag, too.

Sounds easy but really, it’s work! Especially when you receive boxes from Amazon every other week. Reza says in some areas, even the kind of plastic bags you use for disposing garbage is regulated.

After that I need to bring all of them down to another block. The garbage goes to the garbage disposal center, while the recyclable garbage goes into the recyclable garbage room.

As for big-sized bulk trash e.g. TV, fridge, washing machines… I need to make an appointment with the Bulk Waste Center and pay them a fee so that they can get rid of my things. WTF, I know 😆

Dealing with garbage outside

It’s not easy to get rid of garbage in public, in Japan. You’re expected to keep your trash inside your bag and discard it at home. At least that’s what I got from it.

There are some trash cans around, but what you’ll normally see are not trash cans but recycling bins — usually Cans, Bottles and Paper. Or like at class, it’s more lenient, Burnable and Unburnable Waste.

This movement must have been going on for decades that’s it’s really ingrained in them.

Although it seems like a lot to digest right now, I’m sure Malaysia will slowly transition into an actively recycling country with enough awareness, education and practice.

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