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Kamikatsu, Japan is a tiny town of just 1,500 residents – but looks can be deceiving. This small town covering 42 sq mi is known as Japan’s Zero-Waste town, and it’s so famous that it even gets upwards of 2,000 tourists a year! What’s special about Kamikatsu?  

extreme recycling 

Kamikatsu residents sort their trash into different recycling categories, just like you do, but they take it to an entirely new level. While you might separate paper from glass and plastic, the folks in Kamikatsu sort their garbage into 45 – that’s right, 45 – categories! There are 9 categories alone just for paper products.

Trash is collected and separated at the town’s recycling facility, called the Zero Waste Center, which was designed by Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP Architects. It even won Dezeen’s award for Sustainable Building of the Year in 2021!

About 80 percent of all trash is recycled, far higher than Japan’s national average of 20% (by comparison, the U.S. recycling rate is 32%).

shopping for repurposed items

Not only does the town have a thrift shop that sells recycled, repurposed and upcycled items, but the shop itself is also constructed from different recycled and repurposed materials! For example, the chandelier is built from old glass bottles. The flooring uses glass chips from donated plates. And the windows are donated from town residents. It’s called a “kuru kuru” (translated as “round and round”) shop. 

Local artisans also take old kimonos, cloth scraps, and koinbori (fish-shaped streamers) and turn them into bags, jackets and toys. 

Rise and Win Brewing Co. brews craft beer made of farm crops that would usually be thrown out because they are too misshapen to sell in the market.

hotel why

The local hotel (called Hotel Why), which is part of the Zero Waste Center facility, is both functional and philosophical. It’s built in the shape of a question mark to evoke the question: Why do we create so much waste?

Guests who stay at Hotel Why cut individual bars of soap so they get exactly the amount they need for the length of their stay. And in the cafe, baristas grind coffee beans based on the number of cups of coffee the guest wants.

There’s even a ride-share system, where about 40 people share a handful of cars to drive residents or visitors around town to lower the collective carbon footprint. Even the town’s mayor is signed up to be a driver!

Kamikatsu is truly living zero-waste principles through and through. If you ever get a chance to visit, it’s sure to be an interesting trip!

Sources: The Washington Post; South China Morning Post; Time Out; CNN Style. Image from Timothy Takemoto.


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