RECYCLING IN JAPAN:
Packaging and Containers Targets of Increased Efforts
OCTOBER 18, 1996
Aluminum Can Recycling Rate Reaches 66%
The recycling movement, which seeks to make wise use of the earth's limited resources, is spreading fast. April 1997 will see the enactment of a law requiring the recycling of containers and packaging materials, and Japanese industries and local governments are increasing their participation in the efforts.
Take, for example, aluminum cans, which are the most recycled material today. According to the Aluminum Can Recycling Association, whose members come from the can producing and distribution industries, the total volume of cans produced and imported in fiscal 1995 reached 265,000 tons (15.9 billion cans), of which 174,000 tons (10.4 billion cans) were recycled. This 65.7% rate represents a 4.6 point increase from fiscal 1994. Last year also saw a 5.6 point increase in the percentage of cans containing recycled aluminum, which reached 45.6%.
The U.S. aluminum recycling rate has long been one of the highest among the technologically advanced nations, reaching 65.4% in 1994. But that rate fell slightly to 62.2% in 1995, allowing Japan to overtake the United States for the first time. Many municipalities began making separate collections for cans and bottles with the upcoming recycling law in mind, and there was increased materials collection carried out by can makers, distributors and restaurants; these are seen as reasons for the high rate.
Aluminum recycling requires very little power--only 3% as much as producing the metal directly from bauxite. Calculating the amount of energy required to produce the aluminum recycled in fiscal 1995 reveals a savings of about 3.3 billion kilowatt-hours, enough to supply the home needs of the inhabitants of the greater Tokyo region for an entire month.
Recycling Law to Take Effect Next April
With next April's enforcement of the recycling law, municipalities will be required to carry out separate collections for containers and packaging materials. Furthermore, food and drink makers, producers of materials and containers used in the packaging of those products, and stores that package products at the point of purchase will have to recycle or otherwise reuse plastic and glass bottles and other items.
The businesses affected by this law have various options, including: undertaking collection and reutilization efforts on their own, as beer bottlers currently do; individually commissioning another company specializing in recycling to do that work; or forming joint recycling corporations with other related businesses to fulfill their legal recycling obligations. Of these choices, the formation of new corporations seems likely to prove the most popular.
Already, over 40 groups in the food and drink, container, and distribution industries are advancing plans to establish a foundation, through joint investment, to handle their recycling needs. This foundation will use funds supplied by each participating company according to the amount of materials it must recycle to carry out all recycling activities.
In addition, 19 companies, including environmental device producers, distributors, and waste-management firms, have begun planning of a joint recycling venture. They intend to use automatic waste-sorting machines, which employ magnets, blowers, and video cameras, to finely classify and sort trash currently separated into "cans, bottles, and plastic containers," "paper," and "plastic" for collection by municipal authorities. An efficient system for sorting, shipping, and reusing the reclaimed resources is envisioned.
Introduction of this system in a community of 120,000 that currently collects different types of waste separately would lead to savings in labor, transport, and equipment of about 30%. If the system were employed on a larger scale, with neighboring cities joining to form a waste-management community of 300,000, costs could fall by as much as half.
In this way, the efforts of everyone involved--the makers of packaging materials and containers, retailers and wholesalers, waste management firms, local governmental bodies, and consumers--are essential for more effective recycling.