Millennial Perspective
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World Citizen
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Estimated reading time:
2 mins

I Thought Australians Were Good at Recycling Until I Went to Japan

I have always been a pretty responsible recycler… I mean with only three different bins, it's pretty straightforward to separate our garbage, food scraps, plastics etc. And that’s a good thing right? Having a simple recycling system that everyone can practise, because at the end of the day we all care about the environment and protecting life both on land and underwater.

But… is that enough? Are we doing enough?

I am asking this because I still remember, one of my first memories of arriving in Japan for my 5 month study abroad exchange was the immense overwhelming feeling I had going through all my paperwork. I had documents regarding registering my residence at the local ward office, how to use my washing machine/air conditioner, how to open bank accounts, pay rent … the list goes on. However, truth be told, nothing gave me more stress and worry than the A3 sheet of paper outlining the extensive recycling and garbage disposal system in Japan.

I never took a picture of the guide but it did look something like this:

‍The sheet I had was even more detailed than this

So you can imagine my initial thought was: “I am not going to create any waste while I am here”. Even walking into the garbage room in my dorm was enough to scare me into thinking that going completely zero waste was a viable option. Rest assured I quickly dismissed that thought and slowly came to terms with the recycling situation. Towards the end of my exchange, I still hated entering the garbage room (mostly because of the smell), but I was so much more comfortable separating waste into the relevant bins.

Upon returning to Australia, I did start to wonder whether we could be doing more in our recycling schemes and whether a system like the one in Japan would even work here. Because let's be honest, a complex recycling system is time consuming to implement and maintain. In Japan at least, incorrectly recycled garbage will not even be collected and you’ll have to suffer the embarrassment of receiving the ‘red sticker of shame’ (which no one wants). I’m sure many countries adopt similar recycling methods but one thing I noticed in Japan was how ingrained the culture of recycling was in society. Most people see it as their civic duty to recycle and it becomes second nature to do the right thing. Even Japanese textbooks incorporate recycling scenarios, ensuring that children can begin to understand the relevance and importance of protecting the environment from an early age.

So yes, I think as Australians, we can be doing more to ensure our waste has as little impact on the environment as possible. However, it isn’t as simple and black and white as introducing a new recycling system because the bigger challenge would be to mobilise households to actually care and abide by stricter recycling requirements. So, it starts with being aware. Being aware of our impact on the environment and being aware of what more we can do. Because if we are aware of what we can do to whilst knowing it positively impacts the world around us, it becomes a lot easier to accept and practise ‘doing the right thing’. I admit though, it’ll take time, but I look forward to the day that recycling becomes something that we all want to do… rather than something we have to do.

Better recycling = happy Earth :)

Isabelle Gao

You could call Isabelle a bit of an “adrenaline junkie”... crazy about epic roller coasters and insane bungee jumps. While that is true, she is a current University of Melbourne student, toughing out a 4 year course in Commerce and Japanese. There is nothing Isabelle would enjoy more than simply reading a good book while drinking a nice matcha latte.