If you walk down any street in Japan you will notice something missing. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a hint. Let’s say we stopped for a quick snack at the conbini/convenience store on the corner. You picked up an onigiri and I bought green tea. We’re out and about and eventually we both finish our snacks/drinks. What would you do with the wrapper from your delicious onigiri? What would I usually do with my empty bottle? Throw them in the trash. Right. Not in Japan you don’t! IF you have garbage while you’re out in public guess who has to deal with that garbage?! YOU! There are no trash cans, conveniently located for your use (you’ll still find them in restrooms and in some buildings but not outside). So what do you do with that wrapper and bottle? You put them in your bag, hopefully you got a bag from the conbini, and you take them home.
As a result of this practice, Japanese streets are by far the most clean I’ve ever seen a city street, anywhere. I’ve only seen waste a few times. It’s not nearly as much as I saw walking down Michigan Ave in Chicago. Bruh! There was so much trash. Smh. We gotta do better. What must the tourists think of us.
Back to the topic. Big gomi or sodai gomi 粗大ごみ is one of the many trash collections days here in Japan. It literally means “big trash night”. Why is it so big, you ask? Ugh, because you’ve been holding on to every single piece of garbage that you created for a week! Or more. Check out this calendar below. Each area is different with its trash requirements so beware. Also as a side note know that Japan is an island. There is no space for landfills so most stuff is either burned or reused.
As you can see, big gomi happens only twice a month! So any used paper, and by used I mean not pristine/new, old/broken furniture, cans, broken glass, plastic bottles, glass bottles, clothing, and everything else you see under “Large Garbage” has to stay with you, in your apartment for weeks.
Here are a few things I learned about big gomi.
- All plastic bottles must be rinsed and clean.
- All cartons have to be rinsed and disassembled for drying. Then stacked and tied with string (well before big gomi).
- Labels must be removed from bottles. Tops must also be removed. There’s a bit of confusion on where the tops actually go. I’ll keep you posted.
- Any food items like egg shells, peals and dirty plastics and dirty paper go in the burnable bag to be collected another day. These bags will funk up your spot so we put them in blue bins outside at each end of the hallway until pickup.
- There are scavengers! Legit! People come to see what you’ve discarded and take it home with them.
- There is a community member who stands near the bins. Common thought is that they are there to assist you but it could be that they are there to smack your wrists when you put clear glass bottles in the brown bottle bin.
- DO NOT MISS BIG GOMI!! If you miss it you have to keep all that stuff for more days and weeks than you’d care to. Think of the clutter.
As you might know, I enjoy people watching and ear hustling. One thing that I noticed is how little each Japanese person brought to “big” gomi. One dude hopped out of his car and emptied a case of empty soda cans then took the box and left. Other people did the same. This whole neighborhood was placing their trash out and it still paled in comparison to so many overflowing trash cans back home.
The moral of the story is…create less waste. Buy quality products that will last a long time. Stop breaking things! Learn to reuse, repair or regift stuff. Buy in bulk, if possible. And I’m not talking Sam’s Club or Costco, I mean Whole foods bulk. Bring your own bag to the market bulk. I think they’re on to something.