ROB VINSEN, chairman of Whanganui District Council waste minimisation committee, was in the party that recently visited Nagaizumi in Japan to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Sister City Relationship with Whanganui. How the Japanese deal with waste proved an eye-opener ...

WHY is Japan so clean and spotless?

The visible absence of rubbish bins on Japanese streets is a bit of a mystery to tourists — in fact, visitors may struggle to dispose of their trash. So why are Japan's streets so spotless?

It's because not littering has become part of Japan's culture, and most Japanese people will take their rubbish home with them rather than dispose of it when out and about.
Another cultural custom that has an impact is that Japanese consider it sloppy and bad manners to eat while walking.


In our culture, walking and eating (and disposing of the packaging) is widely accepted, but the practice is looked down upon in Japan.

Street food is very popular, and most people will stand still and eat it where they bought it.

Street vendors take responsibility for disposing of the waste they generate — a practice that would be welcome here in Whanganui — and customers will hand the packaging back to the vendor for disposal.

There are more than five million vending machines in Japan and the variety of what they sell is amazing.

There is the usual array of soft drinks, as well as soups, noodles, sake and beer. The unusual includes umbrellas and reused underwear.

It is amazing to see these machines in fully public street locations, often with rubbish bins nearby.

It appears the sense of responsibility inherent in Japanese culture ensures that the machines are secure and safe.

While in many Western cultures we are becoming overfocused — in my opinion — on eradicating the use of plastic bags, a plastic bag is carried in the pockets of most Japanese and that is what is used to collect disposable litter to either take to a bin or to their home.


At home Japanese are the kings and queens of recycling and they divide and subdivide their trash.

Home recycling is an important part of the domestic routine. Japan recycles 77 per cent of its plastic — well above the 20 per cent currently managed in New Zealand.

Whanganui councillor Rob Vinsen and wife Lynne in Japan on the sister city trip.
Whanganui councillor Rob Vinsen and wife Lynne in Japan on the sister city trip.

The Japanese culture for cleanliness and waste responsibility starts young. My belief is that this discipline learned young is very influential on future behaviour.

Japanese schoolchildren clean their school and their classrooms. They serve lunch, clean up after themselves, and continue their cleaning duties by dusting, sweeping, and wiping down the floors in their classrooms, hallways, and throughout their school.

In Tokyo, only 1 per cent of collected waste goes to a landfill; 50 per cent is recycled and 49 per cent is incinerated in waste-to-energy plants. There are over 1000 incineration plants in Japan, generating electricity and producing a slag residue that is mixed with cement and used to pave roads.

The visit to our Sister City, Nagaizumi, was very informative for me. Japan shows us what is possible in terms of waste minimisation, reuse, and recycling.

Our Resource Recovery Centre in Maria Place offers opportunities for Whanganui people to responsibly dispose of waste. Nearly 2000 visits a week demonstrates that environmental responsibility is a high priority for our community.