Tuesday, May 7, 2013

When Garbage Refuses to Die

Sometimes garbage just refuses to die. And you know the situation is bad when even the recycle shop and trash collectors refuse to give it a final resting place.

The problem is a matter of simple physics. An unlimited amount of matter cannot occupy a limited amount of space at the same point in time. And our tiny Japanese home is, well, pretty limited! Like most Japanese houses, we have no basement, no attic, no garage, not even a large hall closet. Sending an unused item to storage limbo is simply not an option. But eventually things get used beyond usefulness. So we need to aggressively (and continually) sell, recycle, and throw away. And herein lies the greater problem. Sometimes things just refuse to leave you.

After my "generous" offers of such gently used items are rejected by friends, I turn to the local recycle shop for hope. Now, my castoffs are generally of such a pathetic nature that the recycle shop only takes on my case pro bono...out of pity...and perhaps a little amusement. I must say, though, that they are very gracious. And I've appreciated their mission of mercy. But I may have exceeded my limit. These days they want original packaging, instruction manuals, dent-free and scratch-free quality, and (of all the nerve) they want for the item to actually work as it was intended! My humble offerings are rarely up to that kind of scrutiny. And the clerks, in the gentlest Japanese way possible, have apologetically asked me to take the item back when I leave.

On the ride home, my thoughts turn to how to throw the unnamed item away. This is easier thought about than done in Japan. I glance at the item riding on the seat next to me. It's now aware of my intentions for its demise. It smirks at me because it knows that the law is on its side. You see, Japan has stringent rules about its garbage. Like flower arranging or tea ceremony, recycling here is a cultural art form in its own right. You can't just kick something to the curb when you're ready to throw it away. If it's any bigger than a breadbox, you'll likely need to get permission first. This involves going to the post office, getting a sticker which costs $5~10, calling the city for an approval number, then placing the verified item outside on a specified day for pickup...maybe.

The hassle and expense factor often has me resorting to other means of recycling: my little friends, the hammer, screwdriver, and hacksaw. I swoop down on the unsuspecting item and begin to break it down into the component parts and sizes required. It puts up a good fight! But I eventually win the War of Disassembly. Then I sort the battle wreckage into bags for disposal on the set days: plastic, paper, metal, cable, fabric, burnable, non-burnable and so on. Part mad scientist, part exasperated recycler, part cheap missionary...the scene is, no doubt, amusing to neighborhood onlookers.

On the morning of garbage pickup I place one bag of dismantled material out with the quiet satisfaction that comes from sensing freedom. It may take a few days yet, but I will be rid of it. Or will I? Doubts fill my head as the trash collectors approach. They stop and inspect my bag. I hear them discussing it amongst each other. When they drive away the entire bag is left behind.

I try again on a different garbage day. Left again. I take out some things. Left again. Were the metal parts too long? Did I mix in other items unaware? Did it look too much like a bomb? Did I need to wait by the curb to sign something? Should I have been there in person with cups of hot tea or a "clueless foreigner" look? I'll never know. All I know is that this infuriating item of garbage is still mocking me from its dismantled state. It must be dealt with and now! Burial!

I eye my shovel and think of creating my own garbage grave...under the shrub in front of our house...between the sewer line and foundation. This 3-foot-square space is the only patch of dirt we own. I can plant flowers on top and no one would know. Hitchcock himself would be proud of my scheme! Half overcome with sheer madness, I thrust my shovel into the dirt...and strike...metal. Sure enough! Some other hapless recycler reached the point of exasperation, too. The grave plot is already full.

Sometimes garbage just refuses to die. I might need wooden stakes and garlic.


Lactose Intoler-Art said...

This is amazing and hilarious. I recently moved to Tokyo and live close to Shinjuku. I've spent a lot of time in Japan without actually LIVING here and having to follow the garbage rules so closely.
It is absolutely bonkers. I met my neighbor for the first time today, and apparently she is my trash shifter. She was a bit rude to me because apparently I hadn't sorted the trash out correctly. I had been throwing away my garbage into a metal locked bin at 12:00 am the same day the garbage is due, because I work until 11:00 pm. She told me that when its garbage day, I have to wake up at 7:00 am twice a week just to throw away my burnable trash. (eggs, banana peels).
This is just wackadoodle.

Kevin said...

Thanks for the comment. Yes, I can imagine that Shinjuku-ku is pretty uptight with these things. Buy your neighbor a 5kg bag of rice as peace offering sometime. By the way, you know that you're supposed to wring out your sink trap raw garbage before throwing away, right? Don't make her do that for you!