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Posts Tagged ‘Kamikatsu’

Photo: Yano via Wikimedia.
Kamikatsu, Japan, has worked for years to become a zero-waste town.

Here’s an update on an ambitious Japanese town I wrote about here a few years ago. It’s Kamikatsu, where the residents are still working hard at creating a completely sustainable way of life.

Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Julia Mio Inuma have a report at the Washington Post. “Tucked away in the mountains of Japan’s Shikoku island, a town of about 1,500 residents is on an ambitious path toward a zero-waste life.

“In 2003, Kamikatsu became the first municipality in Japan to make a zero-waste declaration. Since then, the town has transformed its open-air burning practices for waste disposal into a system of buying, consuming and discarding with the goal of reaching carbon neutrality. Now, the town estimates it is more than 80 percent of its way toward meeting that goal by 2030.

“But even for a town its size, carbon and waste neutrality is a high bar. And with more than half of its residents over 65 years old, the rural community is rapidly shrinking. The town is working with manufacturers to encourage them to use more recyclable materials, which would help reduce waste and burning. …

“The Zero Waste Center is the town’s recycling facility, where residents can sort their garbage into 45 categories — there are nine ways to sort paper products alone — before they toss the rest into a pile for the incinerators. …

“The town offers an incentive system in which people can collect recycling points in exchange for eco-friendly products. There are signs depicting what new items will be made out of those recycled items, and how much money the town is saving by working with recycling companies rather than burning the trash. …

“ ‘When residents cooperate, the money used for recycling is reduced at the same time, so you can see the merit to cooperating,’ said Momona Otsuka, the 24-year-old chief environmental officer of the center.

“Two things are key to creating a culture of widespread recycling, she said: policies, such as the 1997 Japanese law that gave towns and cities authority to recycle waste, and the cooperation of residents.

“Attached to the Zero Waste Center is a thrift shop where residents can drop off items they don’t want anymore, and others can take them free. All they need to do is weigh the item they take from the shop and log the weight in a ledger so the shop can keep track of the volume of reused items.

In January alone, about 985 pounds’ worth of items were rehomed — from unused batteries and sake glasses to furniture, maternity clothing and toys. The number is displayed inside the shop. …

“Rise and Win Brewing Co. brews two types of zero-waste craft beer, made of farm crops that would otherwise be thrown out because they are too misshapen to be sold publicly. … For years, the brewery tried to find an efficient way to donate leftover grain from brewing beer. Composting took a long time, and delivering fertilizer to farmers was a lot of work. So last year, they developed a way to convert used grain into liquid fertilizer, which is then used to grow barley for beer. …

“Hotel Why opened in 2020 as a part of the Zero Waste Center facility, which is constructed in the shape of a question mark to depict the question: Why do we create so much waste? The hotel feels like a secluded cabin in the woods, and at night, the stars resemble a planetarium.

“Each guest is given six bins to sort garbage during their stay. The sleek decorations are all reused materials, including a patchwork quilt made of denim scraps, and a wall display made of ropes. The furniture is salvaged from showroom models.

“The hotel emphasizes using just what you need. At check-in, guests cut individual bars of soap so they get just the amount they need for their stay. Coffee beans are ground based on the number of cups the guest wants, so that nothing goes to waste.

“Kamikatsu residents and businesses work to minimize as much food waste as possible. For example, at Cafe Polestar, there was one dish available for lunch to reduce waste: curry made with local vegetables.

“Even the leaf used to decorate their dishes was produced locally, from a company called Irodori, which has been selling products made from Kamikatsu’s lush forestry since 1986. There are 154 families in town involved with the project, mainly women aged 70 and older who can pick leaves to create intricate designs. The leaves are then sold to high-end spas, hotels and restaurants in Japan and other Asian countries, to create sustainable decorations.

“ ‘Our business helps people realize that there are valuable items even in mundane everyday things around them,’ said Tomoji Yokoishi, Irodori’s chief executive.”

More at the Post, here, where you can also read about the town’s ride-share system and its roughly 40 drivers, including the mayor, who use “a handful of cars so they can drive residents or visitors.”

I loved so many of the ideas and like to imagine towns everywhere coming up with their own unique ones.

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My husband, who has made a lot of business trips to Japan (and also has been reading my posts about 100-year-old workers), pointed me to something interesting at the Japan Times.

Jiji writes, “A business project focused on selling decorative leaves for use in Japanese cuisine is attracting overseas attention to Kamikatsu, a mountain town in Tokushima Prefecture. …

“The [Irodori, or bright colors] project, which succeeded in commercializing colored leaves grown in local mountains and fields and now claims members from nearly 200 farms, has become a vital industry in Kamikatsu, which has a population of less than 2,000. …

“The average age of the farmers involved in the project is 70, and many are women. Some earn more than 10 million [yen, more than $100,000] a year from the business.

“Irodori members use tablet computers to check for updated information on orders. The leaves are grown in their own mountains and fields, then distributed to markets across Japan via an agricultural cooperative. …

“According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which promotes international visits to Kamikatsu, the response to its English DVD on the Irodori project was huge. It has been translated into Bengali, Spanish and French.

“Tomoji Yokoishi, 54, who came up with the Irodori idea and is president of the managing company, said perceptional shifts are responsible for its success.

“The project turned regular leaves into a valuable resource and turned its elderly into a workforce, Yokoishi explained.”

I’m guessing that the phrase “for use in Japanese cuisine” doesn’t mean anyone eats the leaves. They are probably used to decorate tables where Japanese cuisine is served. Do you think?

Read the Japan Times article, here.

Art: Elaine Richards, 1994 7″ X 10″ Watercolor Collection B. Riff

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