A Guide to Garbage Disposal and Recycling in Japan

  • HOW TO
  • In many countries other than Japan, the EU countries and some other exceptions, throwing away trash is pretty simple. Garbage is garbage, and that’s the end of unwanted items. Just put them in any container and bid goodbye to your waste. Although some efforts have been made in other countries to separate rubbish to a certain extent, such as cardboard or food waste, and recyclable items like bottles, throwing away garbage is still relatively simple and doesn’t take up too much of your time and effort.

    Most foreigners who come to Japan for the first time are often surprised (and sometimes perplexed) by the very systematic and precise separation and disposal of garbage in the Japanese recycling system. It goes into unexpected detail and sometimes you need to disassemble a piece like for instance – cutting a carton of milk and separating the plastic spout from the paper container. Moreover, each city/ward/area has its own rules, so you have to be careful. Finally, the biggest barrier is the language one as very often they garbage disposal guides are either in Japanese only, or the English version is very limited.

    However, in general, the rules are pretty similar as it is still the same country. This article is a guide on how to separate garbage in Japan and those general rules that come with it, the categories of trash, and what kinds of garbage fit into those categories.

    Types of Garbage for Separation


    In Japan, garbage is basically categorized into four different types. Each type has its own collection date. Do your best to organize your trash and put it in the correct category by keeping several trash cans in your apartment, if possible. Then, you need to put out garbage out on the right day. Pay special attention to the collection days so that you don’t end up missing it and have to keep your trash in your house for another week! If it’s burnable garbage and it’s summer, you are truly going to regret it!

    *Unless your apartment is in a building that has a garbage area with separate garbage cans for all categories, so you can throw your trash there any time.

    1. Combustible

    Combustible trash or burnable trash, which is usually collected twice a week, includes leftover food, plants, paper (wastepaper, kitchen rolls, diapers, receipts – basically anything that cannot be recycled), dirty plastic bags and wrappers (food wrappers, gift wrappers, candy wrappers, grocery bags), rubber and leather (bags, shoes, slippers, boots), tubes and other plastic containers (toothpaste containers, cooking oil containers, soy sauce containers, ketchup containers, margarine containers, yogurt containers – basically any plastic container that cannot be cleaned).
    Clothes in good condition can be recycled, but if they are dirty and damaged, or if it’s underwear, they belong in the burnable trash pile.

    Usually every area requires special burnable trash bags for this garbage that can be bought from local convenience stores. (unless indicated otherwise)

    2. Incombustible

    Collected once or twice a month (depends on the area), non-burnable trash includes long plastics (plastic cords, hoses, rope), ceramic wares (teacups, plates, flower pots), metals, glass (flower vases, eyeglasses, broken glass), and small appliances (flat irons, radio cassettes, rice cookers), among other things.

    Some areas might require special bags.

    Some areas might have separate days for Plastic garbage which includes clean plastic containers and plastic bags. PET bottles excluded (see below).

    3. Oversized Garbage

    This includes home furniture such as cupboards, bookshelves, sofas, beds, tables, and others, over 50-centimeter long stuffed toys, bicycles, below 60cc motorcycles, electric fans, vacuum cleaners, carpets, and bedding. There is special tax to be paid for these items, and it is in the form of buying a sticker for oversized garbage. Only the garbage with stickers on will be collected, otherwise it will be left on the street.

    4. Bottles and Cans

    This trash is generally collected twice a month. Bottles include empty glass containers (caps must be removed), tin cans, and aluminum cans. These must be put in separate garbage bags, or you can deposit them in the provided boxes as they are. “Pet” bottles, which are plastic drinks bottles (with the number 1 inside a triangle symbol) must also be in a separate garbage bag with their caps and labels removed, washed, cleaned, and compressed (you can do this by stepping on them).

    5. Old clothes and Used paper

    Once you are done reading newspapers and magazines, don’t just throw them in the trash. There are wiser ways to recycle such items without hurting the environment. Books, newspapers, magazines, and clean cardboard are usually collected once or twice a month. When recycling old books and newspapers, don’t forget to tie them with a rope. Old clothes can also be recycled. Just place them inside a see-through plastic bag so waste collectors can easily see the contents and place them outside on the same day that paper, cardboard, books, magazines, and the like are collected. Keep in mind that some areas don’t collect these items on rainy days.

    General Rules


    1. Designated garbage bags are classified into colors (each city has different colors) and are sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. Make sure to use the correct ones. It can be time-consuming but after a while it becomes a habit.
    2. Garbage collection dates, collection areas, and collection rules differ depending on the area. There is usually a guide above where the garbage is collected showing which days what type of trash is collected. Plan accordingly, and make sure all your trash is in the correct bags and ready to go the night before the collection day, or very early in the morning before the collectors come.
    3. There is a specific fee to throw away broken televisions, air conditioners, washing machines, refrigerators, and other pieces of oversized garbage. Generally, the larger the item, the higher the fee will be. For example, in Shibuya, Tokyo, it is 400 yen for the disposal of a chair, 1200 yen for a bed mattress, and 2000 yen for a sofa. You are also required to apply a sticker to the item to prove you have paid for its removal. You can apply for waste disposal in your local community by phone or at your nearest city office. For more information on oversized waste disposal in Tokyo, click here.
    4. Used cooking oil must be hardened and thrown away as combustible garbage. It should not be poured down the sink because it gets thick and can block the drain.
    5. Using the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) is highly encouraged. If something can be reused, then reuse it! For example, old cardboard gift boxes can be great to store your stationery, makeup, or hair accessories. Large cardboard boxes can be kept in case you move house or need to transport a lot of items. Cardboard toilet rolls can even be used as toys for a pet hamster!
    6. The trash collection time varies, but it can be anything from 8:00am to 10:00am, to even 12:00 in some areas. Make sure to take out the trash before the scheduled time, or you might miss it and have to wait another week or so. You can get up very early or take it out the night before. However, it is recommended you take it out the morning of collection, as some communities provide boxes for things like cans and bottles, and they may not be taken out the evening before.
    7. Some areas require you to write your name on the trash bag before you put it in the collection area. Double-check the local rules and use a black permanent marker to clearly write your name. If trash is put out on the wrong date or there is some problem with the contents, the landlord will have to give it back to you. However, if you follow the above rules, that is very unlikely to happen.
    Other Ways to Dispose of Trash Conveniently

    Aside from your personal waste disposal in your home, you can always take advantage of supermarkets and convenience stores which allow you to dispose of packaging in-store. This is a great idea and saves you a bit of time and space having to dispose of it from your house.

    In many supermarkets now, there are recycle bins right next to the checkouts. So, for example, when you have sorted your shopping, feel free to unwrap some of the packaging and throw it away there and then. This saves clogging up your garbage bin bags (which aren’t that cheap!) and just gives you a little less work. Convenience stores also have trash cans you can use.

    Some Tips for Recycling in Japan

    Tokyo 2020 Medal Project
    Tokyo will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, and has made the medals using recycled consumer electronics such as used mobile phones. Tokyo aims to manufacture approximately 5,000 gold, silver, and bronze medals from the extracted gold from old electronics. People donated their used mobile/smartphone or tablets. As of March 2019 they stopped accepting donations as they reached their goal.

    More information here: Tokyo Medal Project

    Old items exchange: Individual recycling and Mutual Aid
    Your garbage might be someone else’s treasure. Jimoty is a free bulletin board that allows locals to communicate with each other. It has multiple channels like job offers or pet adoptions, but Jimoty is most well-known for the listings of items people no longer need and which others can take for free or a low price. This is because furniture and electronics are considered oversized garbage and it costs money to throw them away, but thanks to websites like this one your items can find a new owner. There are also Facebook groups for this purpose primarily consisting of foreign residents who often need to move a lot. Some of these groups are “Mottanai Japan”, “Tokyo Sayonara Sale” etc.
    Also, you might be able to sell your old clothes at Mercari, an app that can function as a flea market and bears similarities to eBay.

    Convenient items to help with garbage disposal

    Eco bag

    Recently more and more grocery stores charge extra for a plastic bag in order to encourage people to use less plastic. For instance, AEON, one of the Japanese biggest supermarkets requires 3 yen (small size) and 5 yen (large size) per piece.To prevent bost waste of money and protect the environment, or just be more fashionable, bringing an Eco Bag is a wise choice. Each bag is super light to bring and will help you carry your groceries back home easily.

    Note that owning too many eco bags is not good either, as they too take up a lot of resources to produce.

    Katameru-Temple for Cooking Oil

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    Katameru Temple – 固めるテンプル. Recently a few people has asked me what I do with used oil. My family loves karaage (Japanese deep fried chicken), and after I make that, I use this Katameru Temple. It’s a oil hardening powder. You put Katameru Temple into the used hot oil, leave it until it cools down. The oil becomes solid so you can throw it away as regular trash! You have to mix it well while it’s hot! It’s made from 100% natural plants so it’s environmental friendly. You can see me use it in action for the karaage (Japanese deep fried chicken) lesson! Course A W9. Thursday, April 5 Main: Karaage with Green Onion Sauce (Japanese fried chicken), Side1: Cucumber and Ginger Salad, Side 2: Miso Soup (daikon), Rice: White Rice with Konnyaku Rice Mix Course B W10. Friday, April 13 Main: Temaki Sushi (Party Food), Side1: Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken), Side 2: Kakitamajiru (egg drop soup) Please sign up via the Best Living Japan’s website. https://www.bestlivingjapan.com/japanese-home-cooking-classes/ #cooking #homecooking #cookinglessons #Japanese #Japanesefood #survivaljapanesecooking #japanesecooking #bestlivingjapan #itadakimasu #japanesesupermarket #supermarket #tokyo #Japan #ilovejapan #expatlife #ilovetokyo #料理教室 #英語で教える料理教室 #固めるテンプル #唐揚げ #karaage #deepfriedchicken #friedchicken #fritocleandefrail #easycookingyuki

    Yuki-Japanese Cookingさん(@easycookingyuki)がシェアした投稿 –

    When you fry something like Karaage (fried chicken) or tempura at home, you wonder how to get rid of the huge amount of leftover oil from your pan and how to throw it away. (Again, do not pour it directly in the sink. Never!) Katameru-Temple is the answer. Soon after you finish frying, just put this product into the hot oil and wait for half an hour. The oil will gradually get white and hard, which means you can scrape it off and throw it away as combustible garbage.

    My hashi / My chopsticks and Suitou / Thermos

    When you buy a bento / Lunch box or cup noodles at convenience stores, you will be definitely asked “Ohashi / Spoon ha irimasuka? (Need wooden chopsticks / Plastic spoon?)”. Sometimes they might even pop them in your bag without asking! If you bring your own chopsticks or cutlery from home you can hep a little bit to make less trash. At Tokyu hands, you can find lots of hashi and cutlery sets which will add a nice touch to your lunch time.

    Also, for your daily use, Suitou / thermos is very convenient to keep your water or tea hot or cold. Buying from Jihanki (Vending machine) everyday costs you too much. Thermos can save your money and is a wise way to reduce plastic garbage as well.

    What Happens if You Don’t Dispose of Garbage Correctly?

    One thing to be aware of in Japan is that people take garbage disposal very seriously. Residents make a concerted effort to ensure they are disposing of their waste correctly, and expect it from each other, too. So, if you live in, or are moving to, Japan, you might want to be observant of your own disposal habits if you want to stay on the right side of your neighbors.

    Another thing to remember is that if you fail to separate your trash correctly, there’s every chance it will be ‘refused’. Waste collection workers will put a rather noticeable red sticker onto your trash bag, which will be seen by your neighbors, stating that your trash can’t be accepted. This is a real hassle, so try to get it right first time!

    Finally, if you really couldn’t care less about separating trash correctly, and if you repeatedly don’t do it, you may well get a complaint from neighbors. This is known to have happened before and could lead to the police being called or your landlord finding out and threatening action. Like I said, this is serious business in Japan! Ultimately, one of the reasons cited by landlords why they refuse to even show let alone rent apartments to foreigners is the improper garbage disposal. Even though most foreign residents dispose of it correctly, the bad examples seem to have had a bigger impact. So, by not abiding by the rules you might ruin the peace of people moving to Japan in the future!

    So, do try to be mindful of the importance of this in Japan. There will likely be consequences for not abiding by the rules, and aside from this, it’s better for the environment and goes some way to redressing the fact that Japan has a real problem with excessive packaging and really does need to recycle.

    Don’t Worry!

    For international students who are staying in Japan for a couple of months or years, universities conduct orientations about life in Japan and that includes how to properly dispose of garbage. This is so the universities can make sure that their students are adapting to their new life well. Be sure to follow the rules you are given.

    When you move into a new apartment, you will receive a booklet from your landlord or the rental agency on the proper garbage disposal in your area. If it’s in Japanese, don;t give up – check if the local municipality office has an English version. It may seem a bit confusing to follow at first, but once you get used to it, it is no sweat at all. In the end, it will give you a sense of pride for being a part of a clean Japan. Make space for your garbage, maybe buy a separate trash can, and think carefully before you throw anything away!

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