During Japan’s economic miracle decades of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the nation experienced the fastest economic growth in the world. Consequently, the country climbed to number two in the global economic rankings, second only to the United States. One unwanted by-product of this success was the equally fast growth of the country’s waste, which soared to 44 million tons in 1980—five times the level generated in 1960, according to Japan’s Ministry of the Environment.
Faced with rising mountains of trash and escalating levels of hazardous pollution, the government took action and revised and enforced its Waste Management Act in the 1970s. Standards for private and municipal waste management facilities were raised, and the 3Rs scheme to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle waste was introduced and promoted vigorously. As a result, Japan, which had previously lagged well behind Europe and the United States in dealing with waste efficiently, has now vastly improved the sophistication of its waste treatment, while some of the waste management technologies it has introduced are among the most advanced in the world.
Several of these leading edge technologies can be found operating in the Iwate-Chubu Clean Center in Iwate Prefecture, in the northeast of Japan, helping turn it into a showcase for refuse treatment.