Trends in Japan

Campaign Seeks to Reduce Pollution and Conserve Energy

OCTOBER 28, 1996

(Photo: Kyodo)

A growing number of truck drivers have begun turning off their engines rather than letting them idle when loading and unloading freight, and taxi drivers have been doing the same when waiting for passengers in cooperation with an Environment Agency campaign launched this summer. The campaign has the three-pronged goal of reducing air pollution from vehicle exhausts, cutting down on noise pollution, and conserving energy by encouraging drivers not to let their engines idle. The movement has even inspired action at the local government level, with one prefecture passing an ordinance on idling carrying penalties of up to 100,000 yen (910 dollars at a rate of 110 yen to the dollar).

Lower Nitrogen Oxide Emissions
According to the Environment Agency, an hour of engine idling consumes an average of 0.8 liters of gasoline and releases about 510 grams of carbon dioxide in the case of automobiles; in the case of large trucks, the figures rise to.1.3 liters to 1.8 liters of gas and 940 grams to 1,300 grams of carbon dioxide.

In 1993, the Tokyo metropolitan government's Research Institute for Environmental Protection estimated that if all diesel vehicles in Tokyo Prefecture switched off their engines rather than let them idle when parked, stopped, and in traffic jams, emissions of nitrogen oxides--the chief components of smog--could be cut by 120 tons a year, an amount equivalent to 2.9% of the total annual nitrogen oxide exhausts for the prefecture.

Recognizing the problems caused by engine idling, the Environment Agency decided to use Environment Month in June as an opportunity to educate the public about the issue. Pamphlets detailing the damage to the environment from idling were sent to local governments and transport and other companies. Stickers bearing a Stop Engine Idling motto, aimed at bringing the campaign into the public eye, were produced and distributed to truck and cab companies with a request to affix them to company vehicles.

Local Government Initiatives
In July Hyogo Prefecture, where the city of Kobe is located, put into force an ordinance prohibiting drivers from letting their engines idle unnecessarily when parked. The new rule provides for penalties of up to 100,000 yen (910 dollars) for drivers who leave their engines on when not in their vehicles. Local officials hope it will enhance awareness of the problems of engine idling and ultimately lead drivers to turn off their engines at stop lights and in other such situations as well.

Three years ago Tokyo introduced an automatic engine control system in a number of its public buses that switches engines on and off during the buses' runs. Bus manufacturers say the control, which is mainly regulated by the action of the clutch, can reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by about 10% given the speed and frequency of stops of city buses. They also explain that though it costs 300,000 yen (2,730 dollars), the savings in fuel make up for the additional cost in the case of commercial vehicles.

When the system was first introduced, passengers complained about what they assumed to be frequent stalling of the engine and driver incompetence. But since that time, enhanced public awareness of its role in environmental conservation has won it greater acceptance, and today Tokyo uses the system on 122 buses, or 7% of its total fleet.

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