the waste

Shunichi Suzuki
describes how Japan is setting out to be a ‘recycling-based society’

Japan is undertaking a national drive towards building a recycling-based society. It faces a serious shortage of landfill capacity, a frequent occurrence of illegal dumping and deepening public concern over dioxin emissions from waste incineration facilities. The past decade has been particularly challenging and Japan is continuing efforts both to reduce waste generation and to lessen its need for waste disposal by increasing reuse and recycling.

The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002 calls upon nations to ‘encourage and promote the development of a ten-year framework of programmes in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production’. These include identifying and implementing concrete activities, tools, policies, measures, monitoring and assessment mechanisms, and, where appropriate, life-cycle analysis and national indicators for measuring progress.

The plan also calls for the adoption of policies and measures aimed at promoting sustainable patterns of production and consumption and the application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle. In March 2003 the Japanese Cabinet passed a resolution on the Basic Plan for Establishing a Recycling-Based Society, a society in which the use of natural resources is curbed and the environmental load is reduced as much as possible. This is to serve as a national ten-year programme to accelerate the shift towards sustainable patterns of production and consumption. Establishing such a society ranks high on the national agenda, and the Basic Plan stipulates ambitious numerical targets – and policies and measures to realize them.

Expanding reuse and recycling
In the Plan, the Government delineated the overall flow of material throughout the economy for fiscal year (FY) 2000. It indicated that 2.1 billion tonnes of materials are input per year to produce 1.1 billion tonnes of products, consuming 400 million tonnes of energy and resulting in 600 million tonnes of waste. The targets have been created so as to reduce input in the early phases of the material cycle and output in the final phases, while expanding reuse and recycling during the middle ones. They have been established for three aspects of material flow: resource productivity, as the indicator of the degree of efficiency of natural resources being input into the economy; final disposal amount, as the indicator of the volume of final waste disposal resulting from material flow; and the cyclical use rate, as the indicator of the extent to which resources are being reused and recycled.

The target for resource productivity – defined as gross domestic product (GDP) divided by direct material input (the total of domestic and imported natural resources, and imported products) – was established to indicate the degree to which the environmental load is decoupled from economic growth. It reflects, in other words, the extent to which the reduced use of resources can result in greater affluence.

The Basic Plan set 390,000 yen per tonne (US$2,300 per tonne) as the numerical target for resource productivity for FY 2010 – an increase of approximately 40 per cent compared with the FY 2000 figure of approximately 280,000 yen per tonne (US$1,650 per tonne), based on purchasing power parity with a base year of 1995. The target for final disposal amount was set in light of the very challenging shortage of landfill sites which Japan now faces. It aims at roughly halving the total from approximately 56 million tonnes for FY 2000 to approximately 28 million tonnes for FY 2010.

The target for cyclical use rate represents the proportion of reused and recycled resources re-entering the economy as input to material flow. The rate is reached by dividing the total amount of resources that are reused and recycled by total material input. The target – approximately 14 per cent by FY 2010 – represents a 40 per cent increase over the FY 2000 figure of 10 per cent.

Promoting a less consumption-oriented lifestyle
In order to achieve these targets, the Government of Japan intends, among other initiatives, further to develop laws and regulations for waste management and recycling; to promote a ‘slower’, less consumption-oriented lifestyle by enhancing environmental education and learning and providing adequate information; and to accelerate the production of environmentally friendly goods and services through the incorporation of Design for the Environment (and systems for the lease or rental of items).

Japan sees resource productivity as the most fundamental indicator of sustainable consumption and production patterns. Establishing such patterns is a challenge common to every country, and other nations might consider establishing common targets for resource productivity, as in the Basic Plan. Japan proposed the launch of an international joint research project to establish a common scheme to address the issues of material flow accounts and resource productivity in the Communiqué of the G8 Environment Ministers’ Meeting held in April 2003 in Paris.

As a first step, an International Expert Meeting on Material Flow Accounts (MFA) and Resource Productivity was held in Tokyo in November 2003. Participants included experts concerned with MFA and resource productivity from government agencies, international organizations and academia. Its purposes were, first, to review international, regional and national work on MFA – both to exchange information and to cooperate on MFA and resource productivity – and, second, to identify international focal points and propose future work, such as a research programme.

Thus the Government of Japan is making efforts to implement the Johannesburg Plan in collaboration with the international community. It looks forward to increasingly strengthened efforts in other countries as well 

Shunichi Suzuki is a former Minister of the Environment, Japan

PHOTOGRAPH: Kenji Susuki/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial | Key to development | The energy challenge | Plant power | Bioenergy: doing well while doing right | New energy for development | People | Delivering Change | Benign growth | Green energy | At a glance: Energy | Sustainable Dreams | Brightening the future | Greening oil | Blue-sky thinking | Books & products | New energy to assault poverty | New energy entrepreneurs | Time to get serious | Breaking the ice | In my lifetime – 100% renewable| Slimming the waste

Complementary articles in other issues:
At a glance: Waste (Hazardous waste) 1999
Keizo Obuchi: Into the 21st century (Looking forward) 1999
Hiroshi Ohki: Averting catastrophe (Climate change) 1997
Herbert Girardet: Giant Footprints (Human settlements) 1996

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population, waste and chemicals