5 Steps to Reduce Food Waste in Japan

From climate strikes to zero waste, Amazon fires and etc, we’ve seen environmental related topics on news more often these days. While the volume of waste has multiplied by six times since the 1980s, only about 15 percent of it is recycled, and roughly 8 million tons of waste are believed to end up in the ocean each year. (thejapantimes) Since China has banned importing plastic waste from overseas in 2018, many countries including Japan have been confronted to speed up the development of their domestic recycling systems, or better, the less waste lifestyle.

What do you do to reduce waste at home when you were in your country, and what would you like to do to have less impact while you’re in japan?

In this article, I’m going to focus on food waste/food packaging and show you;
-how we can avoid single-use plastic packages in Japan,
-the home compost at one of our sharehouse, and
-the waste separation/disposal rules to follow in Tokyo. 

5R’s – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

Have you heard of the 5R’s in waste management?
1. Refuse
2. Reduce
3. Reuse
4. Recycle
5. Rot

It’s also important to be followed in that order.

This can be applied in food waste too. It starts by refusing packaged products. When you go grocery shopping, you should ask yourself “do I really eat all these?” and reduce to save resources. Bring reusable items such as eco bags and coffee mugs to refuse disposables. When you produce trash make sure to recycle. Compost the scraps and leftovers to rot.

REFUSE: How to Shop Plastic-Free in Japan

A simple yet so powerful thing you can do to reduce waste is to say NO to single-use plastic. Avoid taking anything that’ll end up on landfill, as much as possible. When you go to convenience stores or supermarkets, you might have felt overwhelming that almost every product is packaged in plastic. How can we switch from these single-use plastic to more sustainable products?

-Buy in bulk

There’re shops you can buy products in bulk. For example, at the local shopping districts you’ll see fresh veggies/fruits stores called Yaoya. Even though some of the products are wrapped in plastic, often times they sell naked vegetables by weight. There’s also supermarkets that have bulk section. Other places to experience traditional Japanese shopping are rice stores and tofu stores. If you can find a traditional rice or tofu shop in your neighrborhood, don’t forget to bring your own bag or container and ask them to put your rice/tofu in it.

Tofu shop

-BYO (Bring Your Own) Bags

Always bring your own shopping bags! More shops encourage you to do so by offering discounts or charging for their plstic bags.

-Be conscious about making choices of places/products

Choose local fresh vegetables that’re not packaged (eating food that’s grown locally makes less carbon footprint too), shops that actively work on sustainability, and think about alternatives before buying packaged products.

Supermarket selling vegetables in cardboard boxes

Reduce: Do You Really Need That?

“Reducing” might also mean shopping with a purpose and focusing on necessary purchases, not buying only because it’s cheap or you may need it later that you don’t really consume. Also, often times fresh and healthy foods are easier to get plastic free than unhealthy, processed foods.

Reuse: Bring Reusables, Ditch Disposables!

It’s actually very easy to replace disposables in our day to day lives. Here’re some of the reusable items I use:

Plastic bags – bring your own cloth/ tote bags
Disposable coffee cups – mug cups or bring your own reusable cups
Plastic straws – refuse! or stainless or bamboo straws
Paper towels – cotton cloths
Tea bags – loose tea and a tea strainer/ french press
Cling film – food container or reusable wax wraps
Bottled water – stainless steel or glass water bottle and tap water (boil it beforehand if you need)

My water bottle and keepcup on the go

Recycle: Too Complicated? This is How You Should Properly Recycle in Tokyo

The waste disposable systems differ based on the area you live, so please follow their instruction. If you live in on of the Tokyo’s 23 wards, this page is helpful. Usually the items are separated between burnable(combustible), non-burnable(non-combustible), recyclable, and large items.

Burnable (combustible) items – food scraps, leaves, coffee grounds, paper wraps, etc.
Non-Burnable (non-combustible) items -spray cans, lighters, knives, etc.
Recyclable items
-paper; newspapers, magaginzes, books, cardboard boxes
-glass bottles, cans
-plastic bottles
-plastic containers
Large items – ovens, bikes, tables, etc.

Again, the rules of recycling/disposing of waste are different in each local city government you live in, so please follow their instructions.

Recycle boxes at a supermarket

How to Separate and Dispose of Waste Items and Recyclables

Rot: Compost in Small Space

I first started composting a few years ago when I was living in a single room apartment in Cambodia. Since I didn’t have a garden but only a tiny balcony, I prepared a big plastic trash container with a lid, drilled to make holes in the lid and base of a plastic box to create ventilation and allow water to drain, it’s called aerobic composting.
Then I layered the “Brown Materials” and the “Green Materials”, let it sit for for a first few days, after that mixed them up everyday.

My first time compost attempt in Cambodia

The process is supposed to complete and the materials are no longer viable in about 3 to 6 months. As a beginner, the problem was the smell and the overwhelming number of little flies inside and over the container.

*What’s Compost? – Compost is a great way to turn your food waste into the nutrient rich soil. It is created when food scraps and organic materials like leaves are allowed to decompose naturally.

Wanting to start composting again, I’ve found in Suginami-ku, Tokyo, you can recieve a grant by the city that covers the half amount of the composting bins you buy. (Please read the city website and talk to the person in charge for details)
Our compost project has just been started, and this is what I’ve learned so far. First of all, I didn’t know there’re that many composting folks in Japan who are keen to share their experiences.

After some exciting discussions in the group, I’ve decided to try “Bokashi” method this time because it looks simple and less smelly.

Bokachi Compost

Step 1. Making lacto serum from rice water and milk
Step2. Making bokashi bran from lacto serum and coffee grounds
Step3. Pile the brown and green materials, and add the bokashi bran
Step4. Repeat

Now I’m working on Step1 as well as collecting coffee grounds from our coffee loving house mates. I’ll keep you posted the progress on Instagram.

What We Do and What We Can Do More

We just started this “less waste sharehouse” project at one of our sharehouse in Tokyo, but there’s more we can do to make less carbon footprint, and I’m so keen to try more with my house mates and team.

The projects in progress/coming soon are;
-Home Compost (Bokashi method)
-Better/Easier Recycling for the Future
-Explore the zero waste shops

We are growing the ComeonUP community to be the place to “share more, own less” , and we’d love you to share your experiences and knowledge! If you’re interested in our project, please join our community!

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