What Do I Do with My Garbage in Japan?

As soon as you arrive in Japan, you’ll immediately notice clean streets and the absence of trash cans. As visitors to the country, we all need to know what to do with garbage in Japan.


Absence of Trash Cans

In the late 1990s to early 2000s, there was a push to remove trash cans from train stations, subway stations, and public streets. There are now signs posted telling everyone to carry their trash with them.

No Trash Sign on Sidewalk

No Trash Sign on Sidewalk | ©JAPANandmore.com

In Japan, many people carry a plastic bag with them and use it for the trash that they accumulate during the day. Then, they just dispose of it later when they find a trash can.

Incredibly, you’ll notice that the streets are spotless, and there’s really not that much trash anywhere.

Clean Sidewalk in Nagoya, Japan

Clean Sidewalk in Nagoya, Japan | ©JAPANandmore.com

This might stem from elementary and junior high school, where the children actually clean their schools. There are no janitors in Japanese schools. The kids scrub the floors and clean the toilets, and they’re taught to clean up after themselves and not make a mess.

Trash Sorting System

Trash is divided into three different types. You’ll see this in train stations, at the airport, and inside people’s homes. Trash cans in public places are usually labeled with obvious symbols, and they’re sometimes color-coded.

The three main trash categories are burnable, non-burnable, and recyclable. Recyclables are then divided into plastic bottles (PET), aluminum cans, glass bottles, and paper products (newspapers and magazines).

Color Coded Trash Cans in Japan

Trash Cans in Japan | ©JAPANandmore.com

When you see a set of trash cans in a train station or on a platform, you should throw your trash in the appropriate can.

Keep in mind that not all containers are for trash. For example, the recycling bins next to a vending machine are not for general trash. They’re specifically there for the PET bottles, glass bottles, and aluminum cans that come out of the vending machine.

Vending Machines and Recycling Bins

Vending Machines and Recycling Bins | ©JAPANandmore.com

Japan takes trash very seriously, and you should think about which bin your trash goes in when throwing it away.

Where to Find Trash Cans

Believe it or not, there are trash cans where you can dispose of your trash properly.

When you buy something to eat or drink at a shop, you should consume it there. This way, you’re able to throw away any cups, plates, napkins, or whatever you are using in the shop.

In the USA, we have a culture of getting our coffee to go, but in Japan, you need to think about how you’re going to throw away that Starbucks cup when you finish.  While sightseeing, there probably won’t be many trash cans on the way for you to throw it away.

Not for Coffee Cups

Not for Coffee Cups | ©JAPANandmore.com

Many tourists put their Starbucks cups in the bins next to the vending machines with the little round holes. Although it’s a perfect fit, they’re not for Starbucks cups.

No Walking and Eating

No Walking and Eating | ©JAPANandmore.com

It’s not customary for people to walk and eat in Japan. This is because the streets are tight and crowded, especially in the sightseeing areas. This helps keep food and trash from falling onto the sidewalks and eliminates the possibility of bumping into somebody if stopped abruptly.

Other places where you can find trash cans are convenience stores, although they are starting to get a bit more strict. Many have moved their trash cans inside the store, so you have to go inside to dispose of your trash.

Better places to get rid of your trash are at the JR train stations. Most of the stations have trash cans that are clearly labeled.

And finally, you can dispose of your trash in your hotel room. When we get back to the hotel at the end of our tours each night, I just unload all of my trash into the trash can there.

How to Dispose of Trash Responsibly

Whenever I buy something at a convenience store, I go ahead and pay one or two yen for a plastic bag, and that becomes my trash bag for the day.

As the day goes on, I put all of my trash in that plastic bag. Then, when I see a trash can, I empty my trash bag and put it back in my backpack for when I need it again.

Remember to respect the recycling labels on trash cans. Don’t just throw trash into any hole that you see, because it might not be a trash can. It really looks poorly on tourists when Japanese people see us throwing trash in the wrong bins.

Make a conscious effort to look at the trash cans, see what kind of trash you’re supposed to throw away in that bin, and use them appropriately.

It’s important to remember that we’re guests. So, let’s respect Japan’s customs and rules, including the trash system.

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