December 31, 2002



Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.4 (December 2002)
"Initiatives and Achievements of Local Governments in Japan" Article Series No.1

In recent years, an increasing number of prefectures and local municipalities have started efforts to tackle environmental issues in various areas and at various levels.

There are 47 prefectures and 3,233 municipalities in Japan. As of the end of October 2002, 397 local government offices and related facilities obtained ISO 14001 (international standard for environmental management system) certification. In contrast, only the Ministry of the Environment is certified among ministries of the government of Japan.

Ministry of the Environment acquires ISO 14001 certification

Local governments also promote networking among themselves to exchange and share their knowledge and experiences. As of 20 September 2002, 42 local governments in Japan were members of the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives. And 71 municipalities form the Coalition of Local Government for Environmental Initiative to promote local environmental initiatives and networking of such information (as of 12 December 2002)

Many local governments have declared themselves as a leader in the environmental field. It was unthinkable ten years ago that any local government would make such a declaration, but today they want to impress their residents, other municipalities and the national government that they are seriously tackling environmental issues, since such a stance is appealing nowadays. The mere fact that many local governments now jockey for position at the front of the environmental field indicates the level and scope of environmental awareness in the current society of Japan.

One NGO recently conducted the Environmental Capital Contest to find the most environmentally-friendly city in Japan. Read more

Here is a brief explanation about the structure and system of local governments in Japan. Local administration in Japan has two tiers: prefectures and local municipalities (cities, towns and villages). Cities, towns and villages are known as the basic local authorities and they are in charge of household garbage collection and other work in the field of environment as well as welfare.

At present, 12 large cities in Japan with a population of more than 1 million are "ordinance-designated" cities, recognized as having a higher level of authority than other cities, and being almost equivalent to prefectures.

The Environmental Capital Contest chose the cities of Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sendai and Kita-Kyushu as the top four environmental cites in Japan. The fact that all four are ordinance-designated cities and have a high level of self-determination is one factor behind their effective initiatives and activities.

The city of Nagoya ranked first in the contest. What has it done in the past, what is it doing now, and what will it do in future environmental initiatives?

In order to grasp the achievement of Nagoya cith, let's see how much waste is generated per capita per day. According to 1997 data,the United States ranks first (2.0 kg/person/day), followed by Australia(1.9 kg) and Norway (1.7 kg), Switzerland (1.6 kg), Denmark and theNetherlands (1.5 kg). Germany generates the lowest level among developed nations, at 0.9 kg (1995 data). Japan, in the low-middle range, generates 1.1 kg.

The city of Nagoya, with a population of approximately 2.2 million, generated 1.251 kg/person/day of waste in 1998, exceeding the average in Japan. At that time, the entire city generated 1.02 million tonnes of waste, of which 0.28 million tonnes were landfilled. (Most of the waste is incinerated in Japan.)

Only two years later, in 2000, the city had reduced its waste generation to 0.955 kg/person/day, for a total of 0.79 million tonnes, of which 0.15 million tonnes landfilled. Over just two years, the city had reduced the amount of waste generated by 23% and cut the amount sent to landfills by almost half. In 2001, they further reduced the amount of waste to 0.76 million tonnes (0.916 kg/person/day).

There are few examples anywhere of such a drastic reduction in waste in a city of more than 1 million people. What was the trigger? What initiatives and measures have been so effective?

The city of Nagoya has very limited space suitable for waste landfill, so for years it has used a landfill site in Tajimi City, in the neighboring Gifu Prefecture. Since the city's amount of waste had increased drastically, by approximately 60 percent between 1980 and 1998, the Tajimi landfill site was expected to last only two more years. Meanwhile, the city of Nagoya had started 20 years ago to study the Fujimae tidal flat as its next landfill site candidate.

Public demands to conserve the Fujimae tidal flat had grown strong, however, since people knew that it serves as an important staging area for migratory shorebirds, including snipes and plovers. In January 1999, Mayor Matsubara decided to cancel plans for the landfill on the Fujimae tidal flat, after exhaustive deliberations on how to secure a comfortable and clean living for citizens, at the same time as preserving the natural environment.

The following month, the city declared a "Waste Emergency," because simply abandoning the landfill construction would not stop the city's waste generation. The declaration announced a goal of a 20 percent waste reduction (200,000 tonnes). In April, a special division in charge of measures to reduce waste was established in the city government.

" We thought it might be possible to reduce waste by 20 percent since Tokyo Metropolitan Government did this over the past ten years. But it was a challenging goal to accomplish this just in two years," the division personnel said. "We did a wide variety of measures one after another, with the conviction that we must try out every possible measure and idea."

The major measures found to be effective are listed below.

- Control/reduction of waste generation:

"Challenge 100" campaign for citizens ("Let's reduce household garbage by 100 g every day!") Imposition of fees to collect and dispose of furniture, electrical appliances and large waste items from households

- Promotion of waste recycling

Promotion of locally-based resource collection activities (With 3,100 regional bases and 107 school area-based centers for resource collection, resources collected for recycling per year increased from 50,000 tonnes to 90,000 tonnes.) Expansion of collection areas for used bottles and cans covered the entire city. Introduction of designated plastic bags for garbage collection

In addition, starting in August 2000, Nagoya City strongly promoted the sorted collection of containers and packages based on the national Law for Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling of Containers and Packaging. In fact, 60 percent of Japanese household garbage consists of containers and packaging.

After the city introduced this strong initiative, household waste decreased by 25 percent. The city's personnel in charge of collecting garbage from households put "warning stickers" on garbage bags if the garbage they contained had not been properly sorted by category. Furthermore, the city held 2,300 local meetings to explain how to sort household garbage.

Today, Nagoya citizens are required to sort their garbage into 16 categories for municipal garbage collection.

The Fujimae tidal flat was protected and conserved by the strong desire of the people of Nagoya, who did not want to bury the tidal flat with their own garbage, and by all-out efforts in the city to reduce waste.

People were thrilled when the Fujimae tidal flat was later designated as a Ramsar site, in November 2002. New Ramsar Sites Designated: Miyajima-numa and Fujimae-higata

The Fujimae tidal flat, located in the vicinity of a city as large as Nagoya, can serve as a global model for the successful protection of the environment against development.

Nagoya City achieved its goal of reducing generated waste by 200,000 tonnes in two years. The city's next goal is to reduce generated waste further from 2000 levels by approximately another 20 percent by the year 2010, to a total of 0.62 million tonnes (0.750 kg/person/day). The city also aims to drastically cut the amount of waste sent to the landfill, from the current 150,000 tonnes to 20,000 tonnes by 2010, with the ultimate future goal of zero waste sent to landfill.

Nagoya City already ranks as one of the leading cities in terms of waste reduction. Now it is aiming to become a leading city in environmental initiatives and achievements. For example, it has set the goal of a 10-percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the 1990 level by 2010 (greater than national goal of a 6 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) and it is now implementing action plans to achieve this goal.

You can read about one such initiative at the JFS website: Nagoya City to Ban Car Commuting by Public Employees

In order to conserve the Fujimae tidal flat, the city government and citizens started close collaboration.These efforts have also created a wonderful byproduct: new dialogue and deeper bonds in the local community. Mayor Matsubara has what he calls this "garbage-enabled communication" to thank. Nagoya City has shown how the effort to tackle local environmental issues can lead to the regeneration of a whole community.