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Why do Japanese recycle bins have two openings but dump everything into the same compartment?

24 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

One big annoyance that many travelers in Japan notice is the lack of trash cans, even in big cities. It’s partially born out of Japan’s general aversion to snacking while walking (which means locals aren’t likely to generate much trash while out and about) and partially out of the fact that just about everyone, men and women, carry some sort of bag (which lets them carry home whatever trash they do generate), but it’s still an inconvenience.

On the other hand, though, recycling bins for cans and plastic bottles (called “PET bottles” in Japan) are all over the place. You’ll find one next to just about every vending machine, and also near the entrances/exits for convenience stores and supermarkets.

Here’s the weird thing, though: Often, the recycling bins have two openings, one labeled “cans” and the other “PET bottles.” But if you look inside, you’ll see that both openings empty into the exact same area of the bin.

It’s something that’s always puzzled us, so we decided to call up some of Japan’s largest drink makers to see if they could explain why. First, we dialed up Coca-Cola’s question hotline, and when the service rep came on the line, we asked “If the cans and PET bottles go into the same section of the recycling bin, why are there two openings?”

Coca-Cola’s answer?

“They’re designed that way to get people to be aware of the need to separate recyclables from other trash.”

Huh. So apparently it’s not that the people setting up the bins want us to keep cans and plastic bottles separate from each other, but for us all to remember that the bins aren’t for general trash (as a side note, residents of Japan do have to separate cans and plastics from each other when putting trash out on the curb for weekly residential trash pick-up). We guess having two different openings does kind of make it seem like a more official system, and something people should abide by.

Next we called up the soft drink division of Asahi, and they told us the exact same thing: The bins are designed with two openings so people will be aware of the need to separate recyclables. Finally, we got in touch with DyDo (makers of Pikachu apple peach drink and drinkable strawberry shortcake in a can), and they gave us one more reason for the two-opening bins.

“Recently, there are a lot of different types of cups used by coffee shops and convenience stores. Some people improperly throw those away in the recycling bins, and if the cups are too large, sometimes they get jammed and block the openings.

If there are two openings, even if one is blocked, people can still use the other one. The ‘cans’ and ‘plastic bottles’ markers are just to try to keep people from throwing other things away in the bins.”

So, at least in DyDo’s case, the two openings are there so in case someone tries to cram their non-recyclable cup into the bin, there’s still one opening for everyone who’s following the rules. On the one hand, such inconsiderate behavior is disappointing, but it’s nice that DyDo still gives the rest of us a way to be kind to the environment even if someone else has been a jerk, and that’s smart design that we’ll drink to.

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- “Recycling in Japan” or “Reasons to get it right and avoid eternal shame”

-- Japanese vending machines loan out free, recycled umbrellas during the country’s stormy summer

-- Japan’s secret garbage problem–and what you can do to help

© SoraNews24

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

24 Comments
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It's the difference between "tatemae" and "honne". Tatemae is so important in Japan.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

Why do Japanese recycle bins have two openings but dump everything into the same compartment?

Because Japan has never been serious about recycling just as it's never been serious about green energy. Japan still burns more plastic than it recycles.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

It's the difference between "tatemae" and "honne".

I don’t think those terms are applicable to this situation.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

(I remember) There were supposed to have two compartments for two openings, but people very carelessly put cans into PET hole and PETs into can hole. It seems recycling business companies finally had new machines that are capable of separating all mixed cans, PET bottles and others. There are still two compartments in box besides one.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Japan still burns more plastic than it recycles.

Japan had sent more plastic trashes to China and South Asian countries rather than burning more.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The bins are for both PET bottles and cans. You can write that on the bin, but people are going to scratch their heads about it just as they are here, knowing they go together. That head scratching can lead to negative thoughts and image, just as some of the above posts have. They don't want that. Most people won't notice they do this, so they won't be even talking about it.

Also, there are practical reasons. Divided bins are not space efficient. Contents settle better the more space they have. Plus one side can fill up quicker meaning you have to empty the bin sooner.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Because appearance is the only thing that matters.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

But if you look inside, you’ll see that both openings empty into the exact same area of the bin.

Right - well that explains the "what are you - an idiot?" look the lady gave me (unable to read the Japanese) when I asked her which was the right opening in one of these bins to put my PET bottle into.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Just to dispel any notions that I'm an even bigger idiot than she thought I was, I should add there was nothing in English on this particular bin. Or in any other foreign language, a few of which I can decipher.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

@BigYen

No pictures, either? ; )

5 ( +5 / -0 )

In our area there are several collection points for many kinds of objects, not just two. At the local food store, MaxValue outside are a row of about ten bins for collection and everyone follows the system.

There are additional locations with large covered skip type bins for collecting cardboard which must be made flat. There are others for collecting print like books and newspapers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

lucabrasi:

Pictures? This wasn't one of your sophisticated big-city recycling bins, sport. This was a bin in a tiny onsen town in deepest Wakayama, the only clues some faded kanji covered in unidentifiable speckled matter. I would've chanced it and just chucked the bottles in whatever opening was nearest, but the lady was looking at me and I know how weird Japanese people can be about recycling... ;)

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It appears some people only read the headline and not the article which gave some sensible reasons for this phenomenon. But hey, why give Japanese any credit for anything when we can just insult them for anything and everything they do?

That said, many of the can/PET bins I see around my town actually do have a separation panel inside making for two sections.

As as for this, “residents of Japan do have to separate cans and plastics from each other when putting trash out on the curb for weekly residential trash pick-up”. Is this another case of an author lumping the whole country into whatever is done where the author lives? Where I live there are no curbs, and nothing gets collected on a weekly basis. Burnable trash is twice weekly, cans and glass food containers (separately bagged) are twice a month, PET bottles and paper for recycling are also twice a month but on a different day from cans and glass, unburnable items that don’t fall into any of the recyclable categories is once a month, and large items like furniture also once a month. And in my immediate neighborhood, because of narrow streets and a lack of suitable common collection points, we do put the trash out in front of our individual houses or apartment complexes. But the vast majority of our city residents have to take their items to a common point for their neighborhood.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

People, especially foreigners, seem to think Japan only means "Tokyo and Osaka" when there's so much more. If it happens in Tokyo it must happen all over? Some people need to visit other places for a different experience.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Many of the bins do separate the can/PET sections but if you actually were to look inside you'd see that there is only one bag that they both go into, I've noticed this myself and was always confused by it, but this article does explain the logic of it.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It’s partially born out of Japan’s general aversion to snacking while walking (which means locals aren’t likely to generate much trash while out and about) and partially out of the fact that just about everyone, men and women, carry some sort of bag (which lets them carry home whatever trash they do generate), but it’s still an inconvenience.

Guess you can spin anything these days.

Thought it was more due to the fact that the bins were removed sometime in the past for whatever reason.....

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It's probably to prevent people asking why they need to separate their trash into 26 different types when virtually all of it just gets incenerated anyway. In the event of there being only one hole, people might be provoked into noticing a difference.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

It's to stop the right hand from knowing what the left hand is doing.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Because Japan has never been serious about recycling just as it's never been serious about green energy. Japan still burns more plastic than it recycles.

The bottles and cans will still be recycled, even though they are put together. They get automatically sorted.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Just like most things in Japan: appearance takes precedence over actual substance. Perceptions are easy to deceive, deceive those and you've got a society by the balls.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I noticed this last time . . . visited Japan . . . places like McD's had recycle bins being polluted . . . . Need more different bins, e.g.  clean paper, plastics, aluminum, food waste.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You'll find the same in some (not all) Starbucks trash cans asking you to separate plastic cups from paper cups. And Most staff , when told to re-use the same cup for that second 100 yen coffee will throw it away anyway. VERY irritating. I also found some bottle trash bins in a service area that had 4 different slots for plastic bottles, metal can , cup and plastic caps that all led to the same container .

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@BigYen

I hear you. I was stuck in deepest inaka, in desperate need of the facilities: Two separate doors, but no hint of “ladies” or “gents” in Japanese, English or symbols. I had to take a chance, and there was no one else around. So I was lucky....

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Ah_soToday  04:13 pm JST The bottles and cans will still be recycled, even though they are put together. They get automatically sorted.

It's not just PET containers. Most of the plastic that is produced isn't recyclable and gets burned after a single use.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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