Gomi is a big part of my life in Japan. It’s funny that I haven’t written about my gomi experience so far. Gomi is pronounced like gome and it means trash in Japanese. I think it plagues every foreigner in Japan and we are all pretty loud about it. Perhaps secretly some Japanese people complain in private as well. Gomi is considered to be a civic duty and a great responsibility to your neighborhood and community. There’s a lot to remember in order to keep your gomi in order and even though I complain, I have enormous respect for the goal of a cleaner environment.
There are four kinds of gomi. Below is a picture of the huge schedule chart that's hanging on my fridge that helps me to remember when to take our various gomis out to the trash areas.
BURNABLE GOMI is kept in specially designated clear plastic bags and usually contains food, organic items, dirty containers that can’t be cleaned, etc. It gets picked up twice per/week.
CLEAN PLASTIC just like burnable gomi, is kept in a specially designated clear green plastic bag. Clean plastic is anything plastic such as plastic wrap, yogurt containers, and any container with this sign on it. It gets picked up once a week.
Everything is over-packaged in Japan, consequently we create a lot of plastic gomi. It’s common for food to be individually wrapped in plastic and in some sort of container and then put in a plastic bag for you to take home. For example, I bought a coffee to go and two pastries the other day, the coffee was put in a paper bag, the pastries were each individually put into small plastic bags and then all of it was put into a big plastic bag along with a plastic straw that was individually wrapped in plastic. I’ve bought batteries that are individually wrapped in plastic and then the package of 4 are wrapped in plastic or cookies that are individually wrapped and are in a plastic package and of course all of it is put into another big plastic bag….and that means we create a lot of gomi – especially plastic gomi.
PRETTY PAPER is kept in any kind of paper shopping bag. We call it pretty paper because when the building attendant explained it to us, he kept saying “pretty paper”. In Japanese, pretty and clean are the same word, so it was a mistranslation. It’s any kind of clean paper.
Finally there is “big gomi”…..
BIG GOMI is sorted and put out about twice a month. Big gomi must be sorted into bins provided by the community, it includes: cans, green, brown and clear glass, juice cartons which must be cut up, big plastic bottles, dishes/plates, light bulbs, batteries, detergent containers, cardboard boxes, magazines, newspapers, small appliances and big furniture and other items such as bikes, couches, book shelves, tables, chairs, etc. It’s fun to bike around on big gomi day/night and find stuff for your apartment.
We keep our clean plastic and big gomi in these really cute containers that Julian bought. It makes me happy.
In the morning, there are assigned gome monitors that are volunteers from the local community. They rotate the monitoring job monthly. The monitors make sure the gomi is appropriately sorted. Our community was kind enough to put English labels on the bin signs for us. Luckily, we don’t have to monitor the gomi in our community. I recently discovered that our building attendant monitors the gomi for us – thank you very much!
In almost every monthly teacher meeting, there’s some problem with our gomi, someone didn’t sort it properly, it was in the wrong bag, it was put out the wrong day, etc… It’s actually a bit of an emotional subject for people. When will we ever get it right and continue to get it right?
I was told that if the gomi is wrong then the processing factory has to stop and pull out the illegal item and then re-start which takes lots of time and adds work. And if the item gets through then it can emit harmful fumes/chemicals from being processed wrong. So, I try to keep that in mind when I’m feeling lazy about washing a container or putting it into the correct bag or some other boring task that goes along with keeping gomi correct.
One other observation, which many foreigners comment on, is that there are no public trash cans around Japan. They do have them in the train stations with separation holes for plastic, cans and burnable trash, but not just out on the street or in a park. I thought about that for awhile and couldn’t figure out why, especially when I sometimes see trash strewn in the canals, rivers or parks. Julian pointed out to me that it would cost a lot of money to pay people to sort public trash, so, if you create trash, you have to either bring it home or go to a train station.
It really makes you think about how much trash one person creates on a daily and weekly basis, especially when you become really intimate and knowledgeable about what you are throwing away.
When you come visit, I will put you to work, everyone should experience gomi, it’s part of daily Japanese life. Thank you Nikki! Let’s make happy gomi!