May 12, 2005

"It was a big shock to be told that I had done something wrong."

I've complained about how hard it is here in Madison to put out the trash properly. We're sent a thick booklet on how to do it right, and it you put something out wrong, they just won't take it, and you're left to try to figure out how you've offended, to reconfigure your proffer of garbage, and to endure the suspense as you wait to see if they'll accept it next week.

But it's way worse in Japan, where they've come up with 40+ categories for you to sort your discarded things into, and where they search through your bags to check your work and track you down and chide you and humiliate you about your garbage misdeeds.
Mitsuharu Taniyama ... drives around his ward every morning and evening, looking for missorted trash. He leaves notices at collection sites: "Mr. So-and-so, your practice of sorting out garbage is wrong. Please correct it."...

He stopped in front of one messy location where five bags were scattered about, and crows had picked out orange peels from one.

"This is a typical example of bad garbage," Mr. Taniyama said, with disgust. "The problem at this location is that there is no community leader. If there is no strong leader, there is chaos."...

On the corner of a street with large houses, where the new policy went into effect last October, Yumiko Miyano, 56, was waiting with some neighbors.

Ms. Miyano said she now had 90 percent compliance, adding that, to her surprise, those resisting tended to be "intellectuals," like a certain university professor or an official at Japan Airlines up the block....

Shizuka Gu, 53, said that early on, a community leader sent her a letter reprimanding her for not writing her identification number on the bag with a "thick felt-tip pen." She was chided for using a pen that was "too thin."

"It was a big shock to be told that I had done something wrong," Ms. Gu said. "So I couldn't bring myself to take out the trash here and asked my husband to take it to his office. We did that for one month."

At a 100-family apartment complex not too far away, Sumishi Kawai was keeping his eyes trained on the trash site before pickup. Missorting was easy to spot, given the required use of clear garbage bags with identification numbers.
So we have it easy here in Madison. At least if they accept your garbage, they don't come back and tell you you did something wrong. And we really only have maybe about ten categories at the most around here. We do have to use clear bags for recyclables, but we get to put all the cans and bottles in one bag. I guess we have it easy. I'm sure there are some folks in town who think the Japanese approach is even better, but we're still far from ready to tolerate this sort of thing.

I love the way the garbage-enforcer quoted in the article is shocked that it's the "intellectuals" who resist. Also this quote: "If there is no strong leader, there is chaos." It sounds like a very grand political struggle. Is it just about garbage?

7 comments:

TWM said...

Living in a rural county I just throw the big black bags in my truck twice a week and drive down to the local drop-off center. Saves $20 a month and I get to see all the underage drinker and smoker teens doing their community service of working at the garbadge dump.

Fun, fun, fun!

Sean Kinsell said...

The bags that are approved for use in the 23 wards of Tokyo are translucent, so you can sneak the occasional plastic bottle cap in with your combustible garbage if you can keep your expression from looking too shifty on your way to the curb. We only have five or six categories, too.

DrTony said...

Like the wandering mind, I just throwthe trash in my truck and take it to the "Convenience Center." Living rural has its advantages. However, a guy down the road just throws his out the window onto his back patio. Oh, in a bag, of course, he's no savage!

leeontheroad said...

Lack of strict enforcement has its drawbacks: folks like to dump tires at my place, rather than pay at the dump for exceeding the trash weight limits. Seems fine to them for me to have to dispose of thier trash, additional fees and all.

DirtCrashr said...

I quit wasting my time recycling years ago, we have a dumpster and it all goes in. I took a dismantled dryer over to the ecologically-sensitive Palo Alto Recycling Center - it's just screwed-together sheet-metal that I had un-screwed, expecting they would want the metal. Nooo, they wanted me to pay them $40 to take the metal - I said fine, nevermind, I'll take it home and throw it in the dumpster, and they looked crestfallen. One guy finally said "Ok, you can put it over there," and pointed to a big pile of not un-screwed water-heaters and other big appliances... Sheesh, I'd done half their work already.

purple_kangaroo said...

I guess we have it pretty easy here. We just have to drag the can down and put it somewhere in the vicinity of the curb. Occasionally if we forget to take the can down, the garbage collector will come up to the front of the house and grab it for us.

We have three recycling bins provided by the city--newspaper, mixed paper, and glass/metal. But nothing bad happens if we put the recycling in the garbage can. I guess we're on the honor system, but everyone seems to use it pretty well.

Incidentally, we have two separate carriers for recycling and garbage. The recycling truck comes around in on Friday morning and the garbage truck in the afternoon.

Mark Daniels said...

After I had written about three-quarters of a post on this very 'New York Times' article today, I stopped to eat breakfast. Before resuming the writing, I checked out your blog and noted that you reacted to precisely the same paragraphs over which I'd been mulling.

I thought about just flushing the thing until I realized that we were addressing completely different issues raised by them. I couldn't help talking about shame as a poor motivator. Occupational hazard, I guess: I'm always trying to help people not feel ashamed.