A Visit from the Garbage Police

The Garbage Police paid me a visit today.


It’s never a good thing when you come home and find your garbage waiting for you.

Yup. My garbage was plastered with the Red Sticker of Shame and left behind to show the rest of my neighbourhood that I can’t follow the Japanese garbage policies.

To be fair, these garbage policies are borderline ridiculous, considering I come from a place where it’s literally, “Throw everything out on the curb once a week and we’ll take it! We’ll even take your recyclables, if you’re too lazy to separate your recyclables that week! Oh, but it might be nice if you cover your garbage with a net. But even if you don’t, that’s okay! We’ll still take it!”

Nope. Not in Japan.

In Japan, my city has nine categories of sorting garbage.


Those nine categories are broken down like this:

    1. Burnable garbage
    2. Non-burnable garbage
    3. Papers
    4. Glass bottles
    5. Cans
    6. PET bottles
    7. Bulky waste
    8. Used batteries
    9. Sucks to be you – A.K.A., Prohibited refuse

Thankfully, my city has a coloured handout (in English!) with pictures of the categories, some example items of what is included in each category, and the correct method of how and when to dispose of each category.


The Japanese take their garbage collection seriously.

… Yes, there are proper methods you have to follow when disposing of every category of garbage. For example, all burnable garbage has to be put in my city-specific yellow transparent garbage bags. All glass bottles and cans must be put in recycling cartons. All papers must be tied together with city-specific string…

You get the idea.

If you do anything wrong – if you sort your garbage wrong, or if you put it in the wrong bag, or if you forget to tie your papers together – the Garbage Police will refuse to take it. They’ll put a nice, big, red sticker on it, saying what you did wrong, and you will be stuck with your garbage until the next collection day.

I recently bought a bunch of furniture from Nitori, so I had several cardboard boxes to dispose of. I laughed in the face of the Garbage Police – I had put out cardboard once before and they had taken it, so I was convinced this time would be just as simple. I spent 30 minutes last night cutting down the cardboard boxes, folding them, and tying them together. I woke up early this morning to make sure it was out in my garbage box before the cutoff time of 8am. I was in the shower when I realized I had forgotten to write my name on it, so I ran out of my apartment and hastily scribbled my name and address on the top box. (No matter what category your garbage is, you MUST put your name and address on the garbage. Even if you did everything else right – you sorted it correctly and put it in the correct bag/carton/tied it with string – if you forget to put your name or address on it, they will refuse to take it.)

I thought to myself, ‘phew! That was close!’

… And then I came home to the Red Sticker of Shame.

Turns out, after using two online dictionaries to translate what the heck the Red Sticker of Shame even said, I had used the wrong type of string.

… Yup. So now I am stuck with my gigantic cardboard boxes for two more weeks until the next Papers garbage day.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened to me. One of my first weeks in Japan, I mis-read a label and threw what I thought was a plastic bottle into my burnables garbage bag. When I got home from work, my garbage bag was sitting in the same place with the Red Sticker of Shame plastered on the front of it. I had to open that (smelly, dirty) garbage bag, take out what was actually a glass bottle, and hold on to my stinky garbage for an entire weekend until the next garbage day rolled around, all because I incorrectly sorted it. No joke.

I’m starting to understand why previous ALTs let so much extra stuff build up in the apartment over the years – it’s just too hard to throw anything away!


3 thoughts on “A Visit from the Garbage Police

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