Japanese Trash Talk

In my very first post, I mentioned that you shouldn’t get your hopes up when you hear what sounds like the ice cream truck.

Here’s an example:

(Open this in Media Player:)

truck 1

I know, Beethoven’s a bit sophisticated for an ice cream truck. In the U.S., we’re more used to “Pop Goes the Weasel” or something cutesy like that. So that’s the first tip off that something’s not quite right. The second is the fact that you’d hear this on Mondays and Wednesdays at 8 am, when kids are on their way to school, not playing outside with time to beg their parents for some change.

Imagine the disappointment, to see coming around the corner, not this:

Ice Cream Truck

Or this:

lickety split

Or even this:

o-ICE-CREAM-TRUCK-COSTUME-WHEEL-CHAIR-570

But this:

I guess it's better than a punch in the face.

I guess it’s better than a punch in the face.

Just a plain old (musical!) garbage truck, playing the first bars of Für Elise, over and over. Signaling to the neighbors to get their trash out on the curb ASAP or else wait TWO WHOLE DAYS before they come again. Yep, garbage gets picked up three times a week around town.

On Fridays mornings, we hear this truck:

Open this in Media Player:

truck 2

If you listen closely, you can tell that this is the truck for recycled glass. It moves a lot slower, to not break anything, so this tune blasts through the neighborhood a lot longer.

glass truck

“You can do it, put that glass into it.”

Getting garbage picked up three times a week sounds like a luxury, until you realize that separating trash is a whole new set of chores. Let me show you what I mean. This is the flyer our housing agency gave us with the keys to our rental.

Eleven categories for separating garbage? Whaddya say we make it an even 12, just for funsies?

Eleven categories for separating garbage? Whaddya say we make it an even 12, just for funsies?

Despite having this flyer (and in ENGLISH with PICTURES!), I was nervous for a whole year that I wasn’t separating trash right, even with four garbage cans. For a while we found other ways to throw it away. We were sure the garbage sorting authorities would reprimand us for not using the right twine to tie up our cardboard. I even Googled “separating trash in Japan,” but didn’t find much help.

So whether you’re a new Okinawa transplant (and off base for you military), or are at all curious, or there’s nothing interesting to read on Facebook right now, here’s the breakdown of Okinawa City’s complex trash sorting system, that I wish I had when when I was an Oki noob:

1. You have to use clear bags. No white or black Hefty Cinch Sac bags to mask the fact that you separated your garbage all wrong. Some cities even require specific clear bags with red markings to designate it as burnable.

Dogs and trash pickers: It is forbidden.

Dogs and trash pickers: It is forbidden.

2. Those bags are SUPPOSED to be no larger than 45 liters, or else it’s bulky trash and you need to notify your housing agency about it. Whoops.

3. In one clear bag goes everything that’s considered “burnable”: plastic gloves (you know, post-surgery), diapers, kitty litter, CDs and cassettes (including that Milli Vanilli Greatest Hits album you’ve been holding onto as a “collectible”–just let it go), paper and plastic that can’t be recycled, oil, toilet paper and tissues, clothes, and leather.

And especially this leather sweater. Burn it now, so we may never speak of it again.

And especially this leather sweater. Burn it now, so we may never speak of it again.

Food is burnable too, BUT:

4. Food and gunky (that’s a word, I swear) garbage like kitty litter and diapers must be put into a separate, smaller bag, like a plastic grocery bag, to keep the garbage neat (I’m SERIOUSLY not making this up!) when it gets sifted through. That plastic grocery bag full of rotting food and nastiness should be tied off and then placed in the burnable bag of trash. Not like in ‘Merica, where most people go to town mixing up their food and stained clothes. Or just throw their trash out their windows, ‘cuz they don’t “give a hoot”:

hoot

Surely those people either didn’t see or didn’t care that their senseless littering would make this Indian cry.

5. In another clear bag goes non-burnable trash, including your (and I quote this in the order it appears on the flyer): rice cooker, boombox, cooking utensils, tableware, incandescent light bulbs, alkaline batteries, umbrellas (“tip can stick out of the bag”), VCRs, small appliances, and metal hangers. And you thought you could just leave those cassettes in your boombox on trash day. ROOKIE MISTAKE!

That's right, Lloyd. You have a boombox. You don't have to say anything.

That’s right, Lloyd. You have a boombox. You don’t have to say anything.

6. Each of the following types of recyclable trash must be in their own separate clear bags: cans (have to be emptied of aerosol), beverage bottles and cosmetic containers, and PET plastic bottles.

Bottles have to be rinsed, the tops have to be removed, labels on cans and PET bottles have to be removed, and PET bottles have to be crushed. This is by far my least favorite part of this whole trash separating business–removing the tops, cutting and peeling off labels, and crushing. I highly recommend delegating this chore to children, if you have them. I’d try to train my dog to do it, but he’d just eat the labels and leave a huge mess, I’m sure.

Stuck on there good, are ya? Let me just take 10 minutes to wash you off. It's not like I have other trash to sort, or things to do. No, not at all.

Stuck on there good, are ya? Let me just take 10 minutes to wash you off. It’s not like I have other trash to sort, or things to do. No, not at all.

7. Paper needs to be separated by type and tied together with paper string. Newspapers and flyers go together. Cardboard needs the tape and staples removed, then can be tied together. Yeesh. Tell that to the packers who used 5 bajillion feet of tape on our moving boxes. Books and magazines can be tied together, too (What?! Throw away books? Blasphemy!).

Except this book. You hoarder!

Except this book. This one can go.

Beverage cartons (paper cartons of milk, juice, etc.) have to be washed, cut open, and secured together with string.  And then there’s “mixed paper,” which is apparently everything else that didn’t fit in the above categories, which should be placed in an envelope or paper bag and tied off, after any plastic film is removed and put in the burnable trash. I am not joking. It really says this.

So, after two years, I’ve found a way to sort all of my trash exactly as the flyer says, right? Absolutely not. I do my best, but like Sweet Brown says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Still, the trash sorting authorities haven’t come for me either, nor have I received a letter telling me to get my act together. The Japanese are too polite for that!

What information do you wish you had upon moving or traveling to Okinawa, or any new place?