Illustration Graham Roumieu
When it comes to trash, Japan is famously fastidious. Every household divides its waste into three categories: burnable, nonburnable and recyclable. However, the art of taking out the trash is elevated to a sublime level in the village of Kamikatsu, where townspeople divide their refuse into no fewer than 34 categories, ranging from the plastic caps of soy sauce bottles to ballpoint pens, green tea containers and wooden chopsticks.
This tiny hamlet on the mountainous island of Shikoku in southwest Japan is expected to become the first in the country—and indeed the world—to achieve what it calls Zero Waste. Currently, every single item of garbage is either recycled or incinerated. The 2,000 residents of Kamikatsu, who started the program six years ago, have progressed enough that they expect to eliminate the use of incinerators and reach Zero by 2020.
Kamikatsu’s rubbish revolution is organized at Zero Waste Academy, on the outskirts of town, where trash is separated by type. Each item has been painstakingly washed and delivered here by the residents (the program is voluntary), at which point seven academy staff members sort it into perfect piles. Last year, 135 tons of garbage were incinerated and 192 tons recycled.
“I came up with this as an obvious way to tackle an environmental issue,” says Sonoe Fujii, the founding director, pointing to his Zero Waste Chart. “I never expected such a perfect system. And yes, everyone cooperates.” —DANIELLE DEMETRIOU