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Trash talk

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One of the big life adjustments our son had to make when he moved to Hiroshima, Japan for university life, was getting used to the country’s strict garbage disposal rules that could be confusing and daunting, even for those from civilized and developed countries.

In Japan, improper garbage disposal is seen to be among the top reasons for friction between neighbors, as the neighborhood bears the responsibility for the proper separation and collection of waste. This means everyone has to be aware of the local rules for trash collection.

I wasn’t able to read the trash guidebook that our son was trying to study during his first few days there, but it was one source of stress for him, to the point that during his first few days of living at the dorm, he would take his trash back to the hotel where we were staying, so he wouldn’t have to deal with that problem yet.

A quick Google shows that the Japanese generally have 3 types of garbage: combustible, incombustible, bottles and cans, and oversized. These are collected on different schedules, and apparently have different bagging/packing rules.

Coming from a country where trash segregation is purely lip service, it must’ve been confusing figuring out what kind of trash needed to be taken out, and how it had to be prepared for disposal. Gone were the days when you just stuff everything into a trash bag, or an old grocery bag, and then leave it outside your home for the trash collectors to pick it up, regardless of whether it was segregated or sorted.

But because he is now a resident of Hiroshima, he will have to learn how to take out the trash, especially after we left him on his own and went back to the Philippines, and he no longer had our hotel room trash bin to cheat on. He’s been there a couple of weeks now, and I’m pretty sure he will have figured it out by now, although it should take him a couple of months to fully master their system, because apparently, incombustibles are collected only once a month, so he will need more practice with that sort of trash that doesn’t get collected so often.

As a tourist, one of the things we noticed in Japan was the lack of trash bins. So what we would often do then was keep our trash in our pockets until we found one, which could take some time, and it is usually disposed of back at the hotel room.

After going through their trash guidebook, I began to understand why there are generally no trash bins in Japan. It is so their trash collectors wouldn’t have to re-segregate the random trash that the ignorant tourists would end up putting in the bins. They force tourists to pocket our trash and dispose of it at hotels, where it becomes the problem of the housekeeping staff, saving garbage collectors the trouble of dealing with unsegregated trash. If you come to think of it, that is a pretty elegant solution to a complicated problem.

Our experience in dealing with trash in Japan now that we were viewing it from the point of view of a local was quite an eye opener.

First of all, it demonstrated the world of difference on how we Filipinos deal with our garbage. Despite the passage of RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act way back in 2001, segregation and recycling is basically not practiced in most Philippine towns and cities. We stuff all our trash into 1 bag and leave it out for the garbage collectors to toss into their trucks, that is if stray animals don’t get to it first. In a nutshell, nobody is afraid to ignore any rules or “suggestions” the local governments make when it comes to our trash because nobody seems to care anyway. The only time we care about trash is when it is uncollected for too long and starts to leave that horrid stink. Otherwise, as long as the garbage collectors come and get it, we don’t really care for it.

In other words, it would seem that as long as we aren’t directly affected, in our case a noticeable stink, we don’t care for our trash. Everything is minimum compliance and we cannot be bothered to put any sort of thought and effort into whatever we do for our community. If you come to think of it, that is more or less the same attitude that we have for our politics and country, and that probably explains why our nation remains at the bottom of the heap, at home in the world’s trash bin.

I never thought that the way a people dispose of their trash could say so much about them, but it looks like Filipinos are still leagues behind the Japanese when it comes to being mindful of their community, environment, and country, not just when it comes to trash disposal, but also in most other aspects of nationhood as well.*

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