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Combating trash: Ginowan gets its citizens involved

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-27

In many areas of Okinawa, fast growing populations are causing big problems for understaffed local governments. Trash disposal tops the list, causing both environmental and economical headaches. Some municipalities have compounded the problem by sitting idle, but others are starting to meet the challenge with new ideas and methods on handling household waste.

Ginowan, which produces over 27,000 tons of trash a year, is one of these areas that has grown rapidly over the past ten years. The Sanitation Department must also work together with neighboring cities of Okinawa and Chatan, which have also grown in size and population. All three municipalities, which have a total population of almost 225,000 residents, must share the same landfill and trash incinerator. The situation has forced all three governments to realize the necessity behind recycling and getting households to cut down on the amount of waste they discard.

The three combined areas recycled a total of 5.34% of their waste in 1997, and a rate of 10% has been set for a goal within the next ten years. Norio Oshiro, Ginowan City Environment and Sanitation Section Supervisor, expects the goal to be met in a much shorter time. The city currently recycles paper, newspapers, cardboard, milk cartons, aluminum, and steel. The milk cartons and other paper actually stay right in Ginowan, where the recycle company "Toyo Jitsugyo" turns the discarded material into toilet paper. Most of the other material finds its way to the mainland to be recycled.

The city has developed a very efficient method of trash collection, ensuring that citizens properly separate all trash. Very colorful and easy to understand leaflets, explaining how to separate household waste, were made and distributed through all the local neighborhoods. "As little as six years ago we had a big problem of people going into wooded or overgrown areas and throwing away large items, such as televisions and washing machines. That has virtually stopped, since we started working on getting the information about trash disposal out to the different neighborhoods," explained Oshiro. Large items can be put out for pick up once a week, which makes it convenient for residents and discourages unauthorized dumping. Also, unlike other municipalities that usually have a central area for each neighborhood block to leave household garbage for collection, Ginowan has its citizens leave their trash in front of their individual homes. This also further encourages proper separation of waste.

In order to further promote recycling, the city has set up a special aluminum can crusher in front of the city hall for citizens to use. The system also gives citizens a 1 return on each can, which is reimbursed through book vouchers. The book vouchers can be used at several local book stores. The program has proven to be very successful, paying out 925,000 in vouchers last year. It is one of only two areas in the whole prefecture that is using the "recycle for books" program.

Ginowan has also purchased two brand new "wood chippers" for composting. The small but powerful machines are set on tractor treads for easy mobility and more efficiency. The city will be using one of the compost machines in the city's park maintenance program to decrease the amount of grass and tree clippings going to the landfill. "The other chipper will be place at one of our nursing homes. It will turn clippings along with food waste from the facility into compost to be used as fertilizer. We will be collecting data on the program, after which we will decide whether or not to buy more chippers to be placed at school areas. Those machines will be composting refuse from the school grounds along with food waste from the school cafeteria," explained Oshiro.

Oshiro was also very proud to explain the city's future plans of building a new trash disposal center. A new state of the art incinerator, which turns garbage into energy used for electricity, will be installed as part of the new facility. Ash from the incinerator, which currently is dumped into landfills, will be used to make glass and small bricks for sidewalks. "This new technology will cut the amount of ash in half," said Oshiro.

All of this new trash disposal technology does have a certain potential for cutting down on the city's waste, but the city also realizes that education is a key factor to a cleaner and more healthy environment. The task of educating future generations of Okinawans is done through special class projects, videos, and other materials that explain about recycling and using recyclable materials. "We have recycle experts help to provide materials for teaching our kids," said Oshiro.

Okinawa may have started thinking about recycling too late, but Ginowan is taking the approach that "later is better than never". Hopefully, the rest of Okinawa will feel the same.

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