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Home › Best cleaning practices in Japan – compiled by Gaurav Gupta (Third Secretary)

Embassy of India

Tokyo

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Subject: Best cleaning practices in Japan – compiled by Gaurav Gupta (Third Secretary)

Japanese society is known for maintaining clean surroundings with very strong civic sense and management. Due to that it is well-known among the cleanest countries of the world. In Japan there is definitely a prevailing idea that “clean is good”. The practice of cleanliness in Japan is not something very technological driven or super expensive. Rather, it is more community driven and therefore can be adopted in a suitable way in India for success of mission “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Urban”, a mission that aims to maintain overall cleanliness of the streets, roads, public properties in India's cities. The push that the mission is getting from Hon’ble Prime Minister of India has already given a big start, in terms of change of mindset related to cleanliness, and adoption of suitable good practices from all over the world can lead to the ultimate success of the mission.

Some of the best practices that can be observed in Japan’s Urban areas.

3W: Waste Segregation, Waste Recycling and Waste to Energy:

These 3Ws make the bedrock of the waste management of Japan’s urban waste management. Waste segregation by businesses and houses, state-of-the-art recycling plants recycling especially metallic waste, glass material and plastic (made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET)) and Incineration plants (converting waste to energy) are key elements of Tokyo metropolitan government’s waste management strategy. In offices, marketplaces, train stations and other facilities throughout the Tokyo city, recyclable bottles, cans, paper and other materials are meticulously separated and placed in the appropriate receptacles.

After processing, the PET can be used to make new bottles, plastic material, fabrics and stationery goods etc. Recycled glass material can be made into road paving material or glass-bottles once again. The metal of cans and tins, is remade into cans, auto parts or construction materials. Some of Tokyo’s 23 wards have a recycling plant of their own; while most rely on private companies to process recyclables. Recycling is a massive industry in Tokyo. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is promoting the “3R” strategy of “reducing, reusing and recycling resources”. As per 2014 data from the OECD, the municipal recycling rate for Japan was 21 percent with very less government subsidy but mainly relying on market forces. The “1997 Containers and Packaging Recycling Act” calls for consumers, industry and government to cooperate in recycling and reusing plastic resources, which are provided to private recycle industry.

In Japan, mostly stoker-type incinerator plants are used to handle non-recyclable solid waste. A stoker is a combustion system that consists of a series of stepped fire grates. The stepped grates move back and forth to facilitate efficient contact between the waste and air, ensuring stable combustion of the waste despite its non-uniform properties, limiting the generation and emissions of dioxins and NOx. Technologies have been developed and utilized by these plants to reduce the final disposable waste and other polluting material. These facilities use higher-temperature, higher-pressure steam generated by a waste heat boiler to power a steam turbine generator generating sur-plus power with efficiency rate varying from 15 to 22%. These plants also provide generated steam and hot water to nearby facilities etc. Such plants may require waste capacity of minimum 200 tons per 24 hours to 600 tons per 24 hours. This technology is essential for our Smart Cities as well to ensure sustainable waste management.

Practice of cleaning in schools:

In Japan, it is very common to see in schools, almost every day, students under leadership of their teachers, scrubbing, wiping and cleaning their classrooms, common area. Though, there is a dedicated staff member (janitor) who helps by taking care of some very specific work which require special skills but by and large the cleaning is done by all members of the school. This is known as “cleaning time” session (Japanese: “osouji jikan” (お掃除時). On the last day of each semester, there is a longer sprucing-up called “big cleaning” (Japanese: “osouji”). During the cleaning session, the school announcement system plays cheerful marching music. In this way children learn to respect their surroundings and develop the sense of responsibility.

[Please visit this video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv4oNvxCY5k to see Students participating in School Cleaning sessions as part of learning]

Utilizing “Spirit of Voluntarism”:

“Spirit of Voluntarism” is part of Japanese life and is inculcated in Japanese citizens since childhood. And, this spirit is very effectively utilized by the local bodies of Japan. Local bodies campaign to promote voluntarism as a “cool” thing to do. They use Social Networking Sites (SNS) for publicity of such efforts and wider coverage. Local bodies before any cleanup campaign provide mandatorily tongs, garbage bags, gloves, masks and body badges to volunteers. As a result, after organization of any event, irrespective of size, like festivals (Japanese: Omatsuri), markets (farmers’ markets, weekend markets, flea markets), at public spaces (like parks, parking spaces, streets). The cleaning after such events is to an extent that one cannot guess that a big event happened at the same place 2-3 hours before.

For instance, after a very big gathering at Halloween party night at Shibuya (a place in Shibuya Municipal Ward in Tokyo) during which close to 100,000 party revelers gathered. On next day, Shibuya Ward Office mobilized more than 1,700–2,500 volunteers. They also distributed pumpkin-themed garbage bags to maintain the spirit of the occasion.

Private homes, communities and businesses are expected to keep their areas clean:

The idea of “Clean is good” is inculcated in Japanese society since childhood as children have to clean their own schools including toilets and surroundings and the effect of this learning can be seen in adulthood as it is common to see a gentleman or lady, irrespective of their social status, with a broom and dust pan, cleaning the streets in front of their house/apartment. Also, it is common to see a group of formally dressed white collared workers (irrespective of their position), wearing masks, gloves, orange/green jacket, badge (indicating that they are cleaning) and with a tong (Hindi: chimti) and polybag, picking waste, if any, (as small as cigarette butts) on the streets, in the street side, among shrubs etc surrounding their offices. By rotation, all employees from top management to staff member perform this duty meticulously and sincerely. Sometimes on a weekend, one can see community volunteers including school-going children (wearing gloves, carrying shovels, scythes, rakes and clippers) and cleaning the street drains, pruning the trees, weeds and grass and tiding up the surrounding area, including small parks and public toilets. These community cleaning services are scheduled well-in advance (like once a week or twice a week) at the level of individual organization or at community level and it is “expected” that the office workers doing jobs in the nearby offices would join them, and they do.

Clockwise from Top: 1) A person cleaning surrounding his house; 2) Volunteer cleaning public area; 3) & 4) person cleaning area around his house meticulously

Provision of Multi-Functional Toilets at each Public Toilet Facility:

In Japan public restrooms (with facility of urinals and toilet) are common as one can find them in metro stations, parks, tourist destinations (even in the remotest tourist spots). These toilets are very well-equipped (generally with tissue rolls, hand-soap, sinks etc) and nicely maintained through timely cleaning. Users obey prescribed rules (do’s and don’t’s) for better use of the facilities and never indulge in defacing.

In addition, most public toilets have a specially designed “multi-functional toilet” (with provision of child diaper changing station, diaper disposal box (and public strictly follow the rule by not disposing it in the commode, squat toilet or outside), there is easy access for use by aged persons, handicapped persons, medically unwell persons as well as for parents with infants. Also, most of the restrooms are designed keeping in view special requirements of physically challenged persons. These specially designed toilets are much desired for inclusivity and to cater to the special needs of users. In a big facility or building such as shopping complexes, office complexes, if not all, at least one such toilet is provided within the premises.

Clockwise from Top: 1) & 2) & 3) Public toilet with signs indicating male, female, physically challenged, medically unwell, kids, 4) well equipped specially designed toilet

Public Toilets in locations having space for parking especially for Taxis:

In Tokyo and other cities of Japan one can find public toilets, even in remote or sparsely populated locations, with taxi parking spaces. These toilets are specifically targeted for Taxi drivers but can also be used by general public. Some of them even have shower facility.

Free toilet Usage in all commercial facilities:

In Japan one can use toilet facility at any commercial facility with freedom, like in restaurants, shopping malls, convenience stores (which are omni present in the whole of Japan in around 50,000 such stores in Japan) etc even if one doesn’t purchase or use their services. All convenience stores (which cater to basic daily needs of all types of consumers like ATM, Xerox, printer, processed food, lunchbox, soft drinks, breads, consumables etc) are equipped with toilets within their shop area. In other words, publicly available and well-maintained toilets are a mandatory part of malls, stores, restaurants, cafes and even convenience stores.

Never throw waste on road:

In Japan, it’s rarely to see waste like polythene, kitchen waste, empty bottles, sachets or wrappers on streets, parks, etc. It is despite the reason that in Japan generally there are no public dustbins (except in the shops, railway stations, and some selected public areas etc). One can see a huge crowd for picnic in Tokyo parks enjoying their eating and drinking but while going back they ensure that all waste is packed meticulously and carried with them to their home or the next dustbin available. The reason behind it is the strong culture of carrying waste to home or disposing only when somebody finds the dustbin. In the absence of a dustbin or garbage disposal bag, it is not unusual to see individuals store wrappings etc in their own pockets till they find an appropriate place for disposal. In Japan a small polybag is provided in trains/ buses in front of the seats so that people are encouraged to keep their garbage tidy and take it with them when they leave. They can then drop it into the garbage disposal facility located at the doors of the compartment or carriage. And in case someone wanted to minimize the use of polybag then many people take along their own bags for the same.

References:

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2017/06/10/environment/plastic-fantastic-tokyo-recycle-waste/

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/11/01/national/tokyos-volunteer-spirit-aids-halloween-cleanup/#.WnKyNaiWY2w