In the space of just a few years, this small pioneering rural community has become Japan’s waste management and circular economy showcase.
Every year Kamikatsu attracts 2,000 tourists and professionals from across the world, all eager to improve their practices.
A small rural mountain community in Japan, Kamikatsu has around 1,374 inhabitants scattered among 55 hamlets. Its large footprint was soon identified as a high-cost barrier to door-to-door waste collection.
The locals traditionally took their waste to be burned in an open-air incinerator, but in the 1990s the municipality decided to implement an active recycling policy (the Recycling Town Project). Its first action was to put a financial incentive in place - which made it possible to equip 97% of residents with electric composters in order to cut the amount of household waste needing to be collected.
Then, in 1997, national legislation gave towns and cities the authority to sort and recycle waste. Kamikatsu's officials then began a huge undertaking aimed at reducing waste even further. The strategy was to find operators capable of recycling and reusing every type of waste.
Over time, as the municipal officers found additional recycling channels, new categories of waste that could be sorted were established.Today, Kamikatsu has an amazing 45 sorting categories: five for metals, six for plastics, nine for paper... The policy took form in 2003 with the publication of the "Zero Waste Declaration", which set a target of 100% recycling throughout the municipality by 2020.
To achieve this goal, door-to-door collection was eliminated and a sorting center was built to replace the open-air incinerator. The municipality’s residents are required to sort their waste very carefully into the 45 sorting categories. And what’s more they have to clean their waste and take it to the sorting center.
To ensure its success the town started a sorting education program using volunteer seniors. The strategy has been a great success - in 2016, Kamikatsu achieved a recycling rate of 81%.
The benefits for the municipality are as much economic as they are ecological. The elimination of door-to-door collection has reduced costs. And since waste sorting is more painstaking, the municipality can sell the waste for a higher-than-average price. This has given it the financial equilibrium needed to fund its new waste collection center and its waste circularity policy.
Activities have also been created around the waste center: a free second-hand store, a craft center for creating objects from waste, and a coffee shop. The sorting center is now a meeting place, run by the Zero Waste Academy association. Even though experts believe the goal of a 100% recycling rate by 2020 will be difficult to achieve, over the years Kamikatsu has developed an innovative and unique waste management model that also creates activities and territorial cohesion. Every year, it attracts 2,000 tourists, members of numerous municipalities and professionals from all over the world who are eager to improve their waste management practices.
CREDIT: Main picture © Veolia / Noémie Rosset