Shaped like a question mark, the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Centre has become a blueprint on how to achieve goals which at first seem impossible. Picture: why.Kaikatsu
Shaped like a question mark, the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Centre has become a blueprint on how to achieve goals which at first seem impossible. Picture: why.Kaikatsu

Island community nears its goal to reach zero waste

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Jan 21, 2021

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Cleaning up the planet is not going to be achieved overnight, but by having a starting point and a desired outcome over time, it can be done.

Take the example of the Island of Shikotu, the smallest of the five islands which make up Japan. In 2000 strict new laws were introduced which closed down two incinerators that pumped harmful chemicals into the atmosphere in the town of Kamikatsu.

Its citizens had to come up with new ways of dealing with waste, and it became the first town to declare a zero waste policy.

Australian Blogger Allison Licence reports that without the funds to build new incinerators that complied with pollution regulations or to transport the waste elsewhere, citizens opted to create less waste and to ramp up recycling efforts.

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But to get buy-in from all the residents, officials visited each household to explain the need for it, and how they could help achieve it. Those who felt passionately about the plan became ambassadors for the zero waste policy, and this eventually resulted in the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Centre. It is shaped like a giant question mark, that houses a recycling centre, a reuse/thrift shop and education centre, with the dot being a circular hotel aptly called Hotel Why.

The thrift shop ensures that unwanted items are taken by other residents for reuse or repurposing. Picture: why.Kaikatsu

Strict guidelines on separating waste so that it can be recycled helped the town achieve 81 percent recycling of waste which it produced in 2016, while the national average was 20 percent, Licence reported.

This is what she had to say about their reuse/repurpose store: “Next to the recycling centre they have a reuse/thrift shop called Kuru Kuru, which means circular. People in the town can bring any usable items (like clothes and crockery) they don't want and if they find something they need they can take it home for free.

“Last year they had around 13 tonnes of items that came into the thrift shop and around 11 tonnes taken away by someone. So, true to its name, it's very circular!”

Akira Sakano, the head of Kamikatsu's nonprofit Zero Waste Academy, formed in 2005 told The Guardian: "Our goal was to achieve zero waste by 2020, but we have encountered obstacles that involve stakeholders and regulations outside of our scope," said Sakano.

"And certain products are designed for single use, such as sanitary products, which are difficult to segregate because of the nature of the waste product,' Sakano said.

Residents are encouraged to avoid buying single use items, and a point system rewards them with alternative products. Picture: why.Kaikatsu

She said systems and design concepts needed to be changed to make recycling efforts less daunting.

Residents are encouraged to not buy single use products by way of a point system that rewards them with other products as an incentive. Licence is optimistic about the project: “Hopefully, the waste warriors of Kamikatsu will achieve their dream of a 100% zero waste town in the near future. And towns and cities around the world will learn from their persistence, unity and ingenuity.

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