13-18 March 2023: The Regional Knowledge Centre of Marine Plastic Debris (RKC-MPD) team of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) participated in the 9th 3R International Scientific Conference on Material Cycles and Waste Management (3RINCs) in Kyoto, Japan. Apart from the knowledge sharing activities, it was also the occasion to observe some good practices of the waste management in the city.

Waste segregation from the source

Waste segregation is widely practiced in Japan. The trash bins in public spaces are provided in different colours to differentiate the waste. For instance, in Tokyo Narita Airport, the light blue bin is for cans, dark blue for plastic bottles, green for glass bottles, yellow for newspaper/magazines, and red for others.

Figure 1. Yellow bags spotted outside people’s houses in Kyoto. In this city, the yellow bags are for collecting burnable wastes.

In housing areas, people separate their wastes by using waste collection bags of different colours. These bags are then placed outside their houses to be picked up by relevant authorities.

‘Different cities might have different regulations as to which colour should be assigned for which bags of waste, or the pick-up day of certain types of the waste. Furthermore, some cities distribute the coloured bags for free, but some others require their citizens to buy the bags in the supermarket,’ said Mr Michikazu Kojima, Senior Advisor, ERIA.

Despite the common practice of waste segregation in Japan, trash bin is barely found in public places but the country remains litter-free. This situation is contradictory with the disposal behaviour theory saying that people tend to litter if there is no trash bin around them.

Figure 2. A clean corner in Kyoto University without any trash bin in sight.


‘It all started back in 1964 during Tokyo Olympics when Tokyo Metropolitan Government removed public trash bins to keep the city clean. People were made responsible for their own wastes and brought theirs home,’ explained Mr Kojima.

The habits sustain, making this unique Japanese approach a good example for other countries to adopt.

Gaining more from sustainable actions

Several hotels in Japan endorse voluntary actions from their guests to promote sustainability. In Oakwood Hotel Oike Kyoto, for instance, customers are entitled to get vouchers worth JPY 500 (about US$3.6) per day if they opt out from the daily room cleaning service. The vouchers can be redeemed in convenience stores around the country.

Guests should notify the hotel in the morning to not clean the rooms nor change the towels and toiletries, and they will be asked to sign a consent form. This action is expected to reduce not only the carbon emission and plastic wastes but also promote environmental protection.

Figure 3. The signed form to request the hotel staff to not clean the room.


Bulk stores to reduce plastic use

Buying products in bulk to reduce plastic use is a common practice in Japan. In Kyoto, zero-waste organic store Totoya sells daily commodities like rice, spices, herbs, and vegetables in bulk.  Customers are required to bring their own bags and containers, otherwise they can use the free paper bag provided by the store.


Figure 5. The interior of Totoya, the zero waste organic store in Kyoto that sells products in bulk without plastic packaging.


Figure 6. The small coffee shop inside Totoya.