How to dispose of rubbish in Tokyo

Rubbish bins are rare on the streets of Japan – so here's how to dispose of your litter with the minimum of hassle. By Xiaochen Su

Courtesy Calls: How to throw away trash
Illustration: Ayako Kojima
By Time Out Tokyo Editors |
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One of the many questions asked by baffled first-time visitors to Japan is: where does all the garbage go? There aren’t many bins on the streets, nor are there many street cleaners, and yet the cities are immaculately – and seemingly miraculously – spotless. Just how do Japanese people pull off this magic trick? To play your part in keeping the streets clean and to reduce your need for waste solutions, here are a few pointers.

RECOMMENDED: Dos and don'ts for tourists in Japan

Don't: Eat and drink while walking down the street

Tabe-aruki (literally ‘eat and walk’) may sometimes be convenient, but it’s considered a social faux pas. Even if it’s a rushed grab-and-go breakfast en route to an early morning meeting, a well-mannered person will demolish their croissant and sink their coffee in front of the shop where they were purchased. That’s why food stalls, vending machines and convenience stores are surrounded by standing snackers consuming food right there and then. Furthermore, these outlets all come with bins helpfully attached – and with tabe-aruki considered uncouth, the need for street-side trash disposal is dramatically reduced.

Do: Find publicly accessible rubbish bins

Not all rubbish consists of food containers and drink bottles, of course. As we go through life our pockets, wallets and handbags fill up with pamphlets, shop receipts and other unwanted miscellanea. And it seems a little cheeky to dump all our unwanted rubbish in the convenience stores’ bins.

So where else can you put out the trash? Major train stations and bus terminals often have large bins for their endless streams of travellers, as do community centres and parks. These are open to everyone and no one will ask questions as long as you are not throwing away too much at once. Hang on to your rubbish until you find such a facility, or bring it back to your hotel room bin.

On the rare occasion you do find bins in Japan, make sure you drop your waste through the right slot – bins for combustible items such as paper scraps and wrappers, noncombustible items like ceramic and glass wares, and recyclable items like tin cans and plastic bottles are often found side by side.

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Don't: Toss your rubbish on street-side trash piles

When you walk past piles of bags of rubbish on the pavement in the morning, avoid the temptation to add your litter to the load. Not only is this antisocial and environmentally unfriendly, it might also be illegal.

Local laws designate areas with specific days on which residents and businesses can dispose of rubbish of certain types. Regular trash is picked up twice a week, while recyclables have a weekly pickup schedule. Bulk items, like broken appliances and furniture, need to be picked up on request.

By carelessly adding your rubbish, which as a non-resident you shouldn’t be doing, you might cause the entire pile to be rejected by the collectors. And with hungry crows ready to pounce on rubbish that isn’t properly concealed, your trash might cause other problems.

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