Trash Talk: How to sort, recycle garbage in Japan

Trash Talk: How to sort, recycle garbage in Japan

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Japan

Do you find Japan’s garbage disposal system confusing? If so, you are not the only one! The rules of sorting out garbage can be daunting, even for locals. Figuring out the disposal system is so complicated that it’s even a regular topic on Japanese quiz shows.

One of the reasons why the system seems complicated is that it’s up to each municipality to set rules for trash separation. That means every time you move to a new city, the rules you’d grown accustomed to at your old place might not exactly apply to your new home.

Not only do recyclables, days of disposal and designated locations vary by municipality, but so do the types of garbage bags used for each type of trash and each city. Spend more time in Japan, and you’ll soon notice the rules also change from time to time.

Before you trash talk and get overwhelmed, don’t worry! The disposal system does have some standard rules that will make understanding the disposal system a bit easier, no matter where in Japan you reside. Check out the list below:

Moeru/Kanen-gomi (Combustible waste)

This is a type of waste that can be burned in an incinerator. Ashes are used for landfills or recycled in general. Kitchen waste, grass, clothes, and Kleenex tissue are some examples of this type of waste. Some municipalities consider clothes as “recyclable.” Plastic products are often categorized as “combustible.”

For reference, Chatan Town, a host municipality of Camp Foster in Okinawa lists diapers, cooking oil, leather bags and shoes, and rubber products as an example of this type of garbage. Fussa City, the host municipality of Yokota Air Base on the mainland, considers waste such as aluminum foil, cooling pillow, fishing line as combustible.

Moenai/Funen-Gomi (Non-burnable waste)

This is a type of waste that is sent to disposing facilities other than incineration facilities. Metals, glass, and ceramics are examples of this type. Some require special attention because they should be disposed of in a specific manner. For example, Chatan Town advises that broken dishes and glasses should be wrapped in sheets of newspaper. 

Yuugai/Kiken gomi (Hazardous waste)

Some municipalities have this category for hazardous waste. In both Chatan Town and Fussa City, florescent lights, lighters, mercury-containing thermometers, and dry cell batteries fall under this category. (Florescent lights of 120cm or more in size are categorized as “Oversized Waste” in Fussa City.) 

Shigen-gomi (Recyclables)

This category includes paper products, bottles, plastic bottles for beverage (separate from other plastic products), cans.

Paper products include milk cartons, cardboard, newspapers, and magazines. When disposed of, they need to be tied with a string.

Plastic bottles for beverages, liquor, and condiments are generally considered “recyclable.” Labels and caps need to be removed and bottles should be rinsed with water before being disposed of.

Sodai-gomi (bulk trash)

This category normally includes furniture, bicycless, futon (Japanese-style bedding), carpet, old lumber, and so forth. Most likely, bulk trash disposals are subject to fees and require prior registration at a municipal office or online.

Reference for garbage sorting


Fussa City (Tokyo)’s list in English for waste disposal

Yokosuka City's guide in English for waste disposal

Sasebo City's guide in English for waste disposal

Misawa City's guide in English for waste disposal (Japanese only)

Iwakuni's list for waste disposal (Japanese only)

Zama City's guide in English for waste disposal

Sagamihara City's guide in English for waste disposal


**Search online for your local municipality’s trash rules. Many now include English translations and explanations on disposing of bulk trash including paying the fees for pickup.

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