A Historical Perspective of Municipal Solid Waste Management and Recycling System in Japan: Learning for Developing Countries

  •  Gemechu Beyene Mekonnen    
  •  Akihiro Tokai    


The need for infectious disease control resulted in the establishment of a waste administration system in Japan in the early twentieth century. The unresolved sanitation problems in major cities arose from the narrow range of action by municipalities that activated the collaboration of stakeholders in 1954. The emergence of pollution problems from factories resulted in the separate treatment of industrial waste laid the cornerstone for the modern municipal solid waste (MSW) management system in 1970. The advancements reached in waste collection and transportation increased collection coverage put the public health importance of waste under control. The development of low-pollution environmental facilities reduced the urgency of living environment protection. The priority factor was changed from waste volume reduction to air pollution control and then to the efficiency of energy recovery in setting up waste incineration plants. The waste generation reduction became the priority policy when the need for resource management emerged in the 1990s. Since then, both the MSW generation and the final disposal amount have been declining, increasing in the remaining landfill lifetime. The recycling and bulky waste reprocessing facilities have been scaled-up, increasing recycling and recovery rate. The system has been evolved towards waste prevention through the earlier identification, recognition, and timely response to the development needs. This paper presents both the physical components and governance aspects in the historical development of MSW management and recycling systems in Japan, which can be used to outline the current and future needs of waste management planning in developing countries.

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