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A ton of train tickets can be recycled into 6,000 rolls of toilet paper. (Photo: East Japan Railway Co.)
Railway companies in Japan are beginning to recycle used tickets, rather than dispose of them by incineration as they have in the past. Although the magnetic material on the back of the tickets was once viewed as a stumbling block to recycling, recyclers are developing new ways to reuse this magnetic backing in a variety of products, such as wallpaper and outer-wall materials. It looks as though the recycling movement, which is percolating through corporate Japan as companies diligently separate recyclable office paper from the rest of their trash, has now spread to train tickets. Trains account for 30% of passenger transport in Japan--second to automobiles, with 60%--but the nation still boasts the highest train ridership in the world. The reuse of the materials that go into train tickets is therefore attracting plenty of attention.
From Tickets to Toilet Paper
A ton of tickets yields about 6,000 rolls of toilet paper. The railway companies can purchase this toilet paper at low cost to use in the restrooms at stations, aboard special express trains, and so on. "Ultimately, it's cheaper to recycle the tickets than to spend money on incinerating them," said one Kyushu Railway Co. official.
In the past, passengers entering a station would present their tickets to a station employee, who would stamp or punch the ticket, and passengers would hand the ticket to another employee at their destination stop. But most stations nowadays are equipped with automated ticket gates, and tickets are now backed with magnetized film to be checked by the machines. Before the tickets are recycled into toilet paper, the magnetic layer needs to be separated from the paper. This operation requires a special technology, which only a few paper companies in Japan have. Railway companies trying to recycle their tickets have been plagued by the scarcity of contractors to do the separation work and by the high cost.
Bringing the Process In-House
And a private railroad company in Nagoya has teamed up with one of its affiliates to develop a technique for recycling old tickets into envelopes and business cards. The magnetic backing is chopped into pieces, mixed with the paper, and melted. By adding a special solvent, it is possible to create new paper. Using this technique, the railroad company can recycle into envelopes 7% of the approximately 130 million used tickets (about 74 tons) that it collects each year. The company ultimately plans to recycle all of its used tickets into stationery, business cards, and other supplies for the 294 companies in its corporate group.
Meanwhile, a subway sytem in Tokyo is using the ashes generated by incinerating used tickets to make cement and concrete, which are used in walkway construction.
New Tickets, New Problems
According to a spokesman for the subway system, "At this time, our only option is to cut up the cards and incinerate them." However, the aforementioned railroad company in Nagoya is currently researching the possibility of saving the polyester portion of the tickets and recycling it into material for work clothes.
As more and more ticket gates are automated, more new kinds of tickets continue to be created. The railways, facing the challenge of recycling more new kinds of trash, are eagerly awaiting the development of revolutionary recycling technologies.
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.