The Zero Waste Center in Kamikatsu, Japan, looks like a peculiar kind of flea market: everything from metal ring pulls to plastic bottle lids, mirrors and thermometers are neatly stored in a row of yellow baskets.
The bric-a-brac of objects, far from being a disordered mess, have been carefully collected, sorted and deposited into 45 individual types of waste disposal containers by the town’s residents.
“Sorting waste into 45 different categories is much more difficult than you might imagine,”says Hiroshi Nakamura , the architect who designed and constructed the pioneering space, “but they are willing to do it.”
Built on the site of a former incinerator, the center has become the centerpiece of an ambitious goal: Kamikatsu’s effort to reuse or recycle everything it produces. In doing so, the town of less than 2,000 people, set on the Japanese island of Shikoku, has become a world-leading example of how a community can eliminate waste.
For starters, to earn “zero waste accreditation,” all of Kamikatsu’s businesses must adhere to a strict sustainability ethos that includes training employees on reducing waste and setting measurable goals. The Kuru-kuru store (a Japanese phrase meaning “to go round and round”) provides free second-hand items such as kitchen appliances and tableware, and sells old kimonos, bags and toys upcycled by local artisans. A brewery produces craft beer using yuko citrus peel provided by local farmers, who use the fruit’s juice to make sauces and dressings, and in turn receive spent grain from the brewery for compost. Cafe Polestar only serves organic local produce and offers discounts to customers who bring their own coffee cups. Hotel Why, which was built using local cedar wood as well as discarded doors and windows, welcomes tourists to experience the town’s zero-waste philosophy. Even the signs in the Zero Waste Center have been crafted from recycled materials.