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Combating Trash: Citizens need to make the difference

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-04-12

This is the last in a series of articles on "Combating Trash", which hopefully readers have followed from the first article, explaining the problem here on Okinawa, following through to some of the different projects being carried out by different levels of government around the island, including the efforts by the United States Government here on Okinawa's US Military installations.

We have reached a critical stage here on Okinawa concerning our trash disposal system, and we must realize that the government is probably not going to ultimately change its policies to enforce stricter laws for trash disposal and recycling. If there is a solution, it will probably come from one of the many grass roots environmental organizations here in Japan, who have already contributed greatly to creating awareness to many of the environmental problems this country faces.

One of these groups has been leading the way for recycling and education here on Okinawa, through the hard work and advice of Hiroshi Kogachi, who is both the founder and President of the Okinawa Recycle Citizen's Action Association, a non-profit organization. Kogachi is well known within the environmentalist community, and is known to many in the media as Okinawa's "king of recycling". He can be seen attending almost every meeting, conference, and symposium concerning the environment, and he spends much of his time trying to inform the public about the necessity of recycling. Kogachi got started in recycling about 20 years ago on a trip to Southeast Asia, where he realized that Japan needlessly wastes many things that could still be used. He explained, "When I got back I thought that something should be done. I started to collect things like paper and glass, I brought them to recycling centers here on Okinawa. I then began to go to schools and talk to children about starting recycling projects. I thought that just doing this by myself was not enough, and that more people needed to know and participate." Kogachi then formed his Recycle Citizen's Action Association, and began to print a newsletter explaining how to recycle. He also started a flea market for citizens to resell used products, which is still held every fourth Sunday in Naha at Pareto Kumoji.

Kogachi now has an office for his organization in Naha, which is also a shop that sells different environmentally safe products. From his headquarters he has gone throughout Okinawa, including the outer islands, to help different communities start efficient recycling programs.

He sees recycling as the key to Okinawa's garbage disposal problem. "First we must think about restricting what products are allowed into Okinawa. We must use things that can be recycled easily here on the island," explained Kogachi. He sees Okinawa's trash disposal problem as one that needs special attention. "There is no overall plan for handling garbage within the Prefecture. The government leaves the responsibility to each municipality, but the budgets are too small to initiate any effective plan." Kogachi believes that recycling should be left to the private sector, and that the government's responsibility should be in supporting different NPO's as well as new recycling technologies and businesses that do recycling.

In order to create more opportunities for recycling businesses the citizens must also do their job, which is to buy more recycled products. "The more we buy, the more of a demand we will create for such products," said Kogachi. This will also result in cheaper prices, which is the common complaint of housewives that do not purchase the environmentally safe products already on the market.

Kogachi currently is busy talking to many public citizens groups, as well as advising some government projects. He produced a video in 1995, which was a instructional video on recycling that is being used by the local governments within the Prefecture. He also is busy in his office tracking data on trash and recycling from all over Okinawa. You can click on to his group's home page at http://www.ryucom.ne.jp/users/kuru2, which explains more about recycling. (The homepage is currently only in Japanese.)

He believes that an efficient system of recycling tied together with an industrial center that produces recycled products could bring the recycling rate within the prefecture to 60%.

If we are to realize any substantial increase in recycling and a decrease in waste going to landfills and incinerators, we must begin to support recycling by changing our buying habits. Like the saying goes- we either pay now or pay later. Fortunately, people like Kogachi still believe there is a chance to improve the current situation. The rest is up to us.

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