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Collecting household garbage door-to-door leads to less trash, better etiquette

Trash collectors pick up garbage bags placed outside homes on a door-to-door basis in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward. Part of this image has been modified. (Mainichi)

The number of local governments that run door-to-door household garbage collection programs, as opposed to using general collection points, is on the rise in urban areas.

    By making it clear exactly what is being dumped by which household, there has been a noticeable improvement in people's behavior concerning waste disposal etiquette -- as well as the unexpected effect of reducing household garbage placed outside.

    "The scheme has helped raise awareness among residents," one local government official says.

    In urban areas with large populations, it is common for residents to place their trash at waste-collection points designated by the local government, in fixed areas such as those that are managed by a neighborhood association. However, in a change to this traditional method, some local bodies now ask households to place their garbage directly in front of their houses or apartment blocks, after which it is picked up one by one by trash collectors.

    In July 2005, Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward introduced a door-to-door trash collection system, becoming the first of the capital's 23 wards to implement such a scheme covering an entire area of its jurisdiction.

    Until then, the ward had been using standard collection points, but discovered that there was a constant lack of etiquette, ranging from residents putting out trash at the wrong times to people not tying garbage bags properly. There were also reportedly numerous complaints from nearby residents claiming that crows would eat away at the garbage and spread trash.

    However, after the door-to-door system was introduced, there was a visible improvement in people's etiquette. "Previously, there were people who would confuse the collection points as general trash disposal areas, but now people are separating their trash in the right way," a rubbish collector explains.

    Furthermore, by introducing different collection days for different parts of the ward, and by collecting the trash promptly at 8 a.m., residents started to put out their rubbish in a punctual manner, just before the collection times.

    But not everyone is happy with the change.

    Some people have said that, "It's a hassle to put out trash early in the morning," but the response among residents has been positive overall.

    Moreover, Shinagawa Ward's door-to-door system has been effective in reducing the amount of household trash placed outside, despite a population increase. In fiscal 2016, the total amount of garbage was about 72,000 tons, which is roughly 20 percent less than the figure for fiscal 2005.

    Admittedly, the new system is more time consuming, as trash collectors need to visit households on a one-by-one basis. However, as it has been found in Tokyo's Taito Ward, which brought in a door-to-door system across the district in 2016, the system leads to a reduction in the overall amount of household waste needing to be collected. Outside of Tokyo, too, there has been an increase in the number of urban local governments, in places such as Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures, adopting the system.

    "Residents feel more responsible for the garbage that they put out, and there is increased awareness among people in terms of reducing the amount of trash. Also, by placing rubbish outside households just before the collection time, the local scenery looks nicer," explained a Shinagawa Ward official.

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