Japanese municipalities take recycling to a whole new level

Yokohama, Japan, a city of 3.5 million, recently sent its citizens a 27-page instruction book on how to sort trash for recycling into 10 different categories, detailing how to dispose of more than 500 separate items, from used lipstick tubes to old socks. The city aims to slash the amount of waste being sent to incinerators by 30 percent by 2010. Kamikatsu, a small town of 2,200 residents, has set its goal even higher — no garbage thrown out at all by 2020. To achieve this lofty aim, the town requires citizens to sort their waste into a growing number of recycling categories — now standing at 44. Of course, some residents grumble that the sorting is too complicated for mere mortals, but despite complaints, in the last four years, Kamikatsu’s recycling rate has hovered around 80 percent. Intense social pressure helps, with volunteer garbage guardians across Japan inspecting their neighbors’ sorting efforts and pestering laggards to get with the program.