Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

Do you ever go to recycle your takeout container or water bottle, see all those different categories, and get so confused you just end up throwing everything in the regular trash bin? 

Knowing how to get rid of waste is trickier than it may seem. But one small town in Japan may have figured out the key to eliminating waste all together.

Here to tell us more are Luci Jones and Ashley Junger from our Possibly Team. Welcome, Luci and Ashley! 

Luci Jones: Hi, Megan! 

Ashley Junger: Hello! 

Megan Hall: So, tell me about this place in Japan that doesn’t create waste. 

Luci Jones: Ok, it’s a very small town called Kamikatsu, on the island of Shikoku

Momona Otsuka:

Our town is located in a beautiful valley, the Tokushima prefecture, with a population of about 1500, mostly elderly people. 

Luci Jones: That’s Momona Otsuka, the Chief Environmental Officer at the Zero Waste Center in Kamikatsu. 

Although Kamikatsu is the smallest town in Shikoku, it has a big mission, which is to have zero waste by 2030.

Megan Hall: Wait wait wait. Is it really possible for an entire town not to produce any waste?

Luci Jones: Well, “zero waste,” doesn’t mean there is literally no waste. The movement is about reducing waste as much as possible and then finding ways to reuse or repurpose the rest.

Ashley Junger: So when Momona says their goal is to have zero waste by 2030, she means that they want to get to the point where zero waste goes to the landfill 

Megan Hall: Still, doing that by 2030 sounds pretty ambitious… How are they going to get there? 

Luci Jones: They’re already well on their way. These days, the town of Kamikatsu is recycling about 80% of the waste it produces.

Ashley Junger: The rest of Japan only recycles about 20% of its waste on average, so that’s a huge difference.

Megan Hall: Wow! And how are they making that happen?

Luci Jones: Back in 2003, the government made a commitment to achieving zero waste. Since then, the town built an entire Zero Waste Center out of recycled materials. This is where Momona works.

Ashley Junger: Each month the shop recirculates almost 900 pounds of household items.

Momona Otsuka:

Local residents bring in their clothes, plates, books, and anyone can take it for free. 

Luci Jones: In addition to these kuru kuru shops—which literally means “round and round” in Japanese—the residents of Kamikatsu are encouraged to sort their garbage into 45 categories.

Megan Hall: Forty-five! I didn’t even know there were that many different kinds of waste!

Ashley Junger: Yep, it’s pretty incredible, there’s nine ways to sort paper products alone! 

Luci Jones: Signs on each bucket show what will be made of the recycled items, how much money will be saved through their reuse, and where they will be made in Japan. 

Ashley Junger: This, along with encouragement from the government to compost at home and use ride-share systems, has helped create a sense of social responsibility. 

Megan Hall: That’s cool to see that this kind of progress is possible, even if it’s just one small town at a time! But do you think this is something we could do here in the United States?

Luci Jones: Well, how likely is it that Americans would willingly sort their trash into 45 different categories? 

Megan Hall: I guess you’re right. 

Luci Jones: But Momona says, all these questions about the future are the whole reason why the Zero Waste Center exists! The Center itself is shaped like a question mark.

Momona Otsuka: The town wanted to question, why do we throw things away? 

Ashley Junger: So, even without an official zero waste declaration in your town, you can still pause and ask yourself whether something can have value in a new way.

Luci Jones: And, you can take the extra time to make sure your waste is clean, dry, and sorted correctly rather than throwing everything right in the trash can

Megan Hall: Got it! Thanks, Luci and Ashley! 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio.

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