August 31, 2004


Towards Building a Society with Sound Material Cycles: the Zero WasteDeclaration from Kamikatsu Town in Tokushima Prefecture

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.24 (August 2004)
"Initiatives and Achievements of Local Governments in Japan" Article Series No.7

In Japan various laws have been enacted to establish a "society with sound material cycles" and shift away from the prevailing socioeconomic system of mass production, mass consumption and mass disposal. For example, the Basic Law for Establishing the Recycling-based Society (enforced in January 2001) stipulates the order of priorities regarding waste disposal measures: (1) reduce waste generation, (2) reuse products as long as possible, (3) recycle products as resources, (4) burn waste for heat recovery, and (5) dispose (non-usable) waste properly. These measures are to be taken by all entities in the society with sound material cycles to reduce as much as possible the environmental impacts of waste.

Waste disposal by burning, landfilling or ocean dumping, while decreasing in scale, has been continuing. Construction of waste disposal facilities such as incinerators not only imposes a heavy financial burden on municipal governments, but also fails to curb the production of waste. Such facilities will generate greenhouse gases or hazardous chemicals that pollute air and soil, contaminating agricultural products and threatening human health. Aiming at the ultimate solution to these problems, a small town named Kamikatsu in Tokushima Prefecture announced what is called the zero-waste declaration in September 2003. It is the first municipality in Japan to do so.

The Town Where Elderly People Enjoy Working in the Flourishing "Leaf" Business

The town's district covers 55 villages of various sizes, southeast of the Shikoku mountains. Forests occupy about 85 percent of the town's total area (109.68 square kilometers). Of its population of only about 2,200, 44 percent are 65 years old or over. This town is aging and depopulating. Although Kamikatsu's main products used to be timber and satsuma (Onshu) oranges, they have been pushed away by imported timber and foreign oranges. In February 1981, a cold wave hit the town and the temperature fell to minus 13 degrees Celsius, causing the eventual death of most of the orange trees and devastating the town's economy. Under such circumstances, the town office, in cooperation with farmers and the agricultural cooperative, drew up a major plan to develop problem-solving abilities among citizens.

Kamikatsu town attracts many visitors from all over Japan. One of the main attractions is the "Tsumamono" business run by the elderly. "Tsumamono" refers to decorative leaves and flowers which adorn plates of food at restaurants. In 1999, the town established Irodori Co. Inc. with the mayor as director. Irodori ships over 300 kinds of leaves and flowers such as maple, cherry, hydrangea, and nandin to Japanese inns and ryotei (high class restaurants), where they are arranged by master chefs. Today, this industry generates over 250 million yen (about U.S.$2.3 million) in profits, which provides an important source of income for the town's elderly people. About 180 people, most of them women with an average age of 67 year-old, are involved in this business. Everyone, including people over 80 years old, shares market information via fax and personal computer. This business was introduced as "a leaf-turns-into-capital magic" and praised as one of the model cases of agricultural revitalization and the use of information technology to address the problems of depopulating areas. It is bringing people joy, health and happiness. (Japanese)

The Town with 34 Categories of Waste and without a Garbage Truck!

Kamikatsu Town is also attracting attention for its garbage collection efforts. Garbage in this town is not collected by a conventional garbage truck. Residents bring their own waste to the town's trash station. Garbage is classified into 34 categories and then whatever can be recycled is recycled. The garbage station is open until 2:00 p.m. every day. A local volunteer group was also set up for elderly people who need assistance. Every fourth Sunday, a flea market is held at the station selling secondhand clothes, books, etc.

The town first took an initiative to reduce waste by composting kitchen waste that accounted for some 30 percent of the total garbage. In 1995, the town became the first municipality to subsidize household compost machines in Japan. Together with outdoor compost machines already subsidized in 1991, most households in the town now make use of compost machines.

Back in 1997 when the Containers and Packaging Recycling Law took effect, waste was classified into only 19 categories, and non-recycleable materials were incinerated at the town's two small incinerators. Since then, garbage was divided into 25 categories. After the enactment of the Law Concerning Special Measures against Dioxins in 2000, the small incinerators were shut down for good. Today, garbage is classified into 34 categories and 79 percent of it recycled.

Efforts toward Zero Waste

On September 19, 2003, the Kamikatsu Town Council issued the first-ever "Zero Waste Declaration" among Japanese municipalities. The preamble clarifies that the current national policy with its emphasis on incineration only encourages more, not less, waste generation. The town aims to cut its incinerated and landfilled waste to zero by 2020. To that end, the declaration contains five points of action plans including calling on the national and prefectural governments to make their utmost efforts to create legal and other frameworks to reduce waste generation.

"Zero waste" is a concept in waste policy that was born in the Australian capital of Canberra in 1996, embracing the idea of trimming the unnecessary use of materials to zero, rather than cutting down rubbish delivered to disposal facility to zero. Zero waste has been adopted by municipalities in many countries including New Zealand and Canada. Dr. Paul Connett of St. Lawrence University in New York introduced the concept to Kamikatsu during his visit in July 2003.

The Zero Waste Declaration of Kamikatsu includes educating individuals not to litter and pollute the Earth and getting more friends around the world to improve the global environment. To that end, a non-profit organization named the Zero Waste Academy is being planned. Open recruitment for staff of the organization has already been completed in preparation for full-scale activities.

Mayor Kazuichi Kasamatsu of the town is energetically conducting various activities. For example, he submitted to the national and Tokushima prefectural governments a proposal to draft a law for extended producer responsibility in which producers are not only required to collect their products at end of life but also prohibited from manufacturing and selling products that cannot be collected. The mayor also delivers lectures on zero waste in various parts of the country.

Thanks to the town's continuing efforts, Kamikatsu has been selected by the Environment Ministry as one of the nation's model towns for fiscal 2004 with a "virtuous cycle of the environment and economy." The town has also been designated by the Japanese government as a special zone for structural reform and chosen to engage in a regional revitalization plan.

In more and more parts of Japan, municipalities and residents are working hard to better manage their own waste. We are hoping to see the nationwide spread of activities that have been initiated in a small town in a mountainous area under the inspiration of that great slogan, "Zero Waste!"

(Staff Write Kazumi Yagi)