Friday, August 15, 2008

Sorting. . .

I apologize for the long absence; I've been graced by visits from guests lately, so have been spending time playing in the mountains and canyons.

I came across an article in the UK Guardian about a village, called Kamikatsu, in Shikoku that is striving to become a "zero-waste community" through a strict recycling program. The story intrigued me for two reasons. First, I wonder about the idea of "zero-waste". Second, I see similarities between Kamikatsu and Otaki in the resistance that some residents have to activities that draw on newer environmentalist themes.

I wonder about the term: "Zero-waste". What does this mean exactly? I applaud the efforts of the residents of Kamikatsu, but it's important to note that recycling, not reduction (in either consumption or packaging), is the primary focus. In other words, reducing waste to zero will not be the final result; only the treatment of waste. There's nothing wrong with this approach, but the message is misleading and may be detrimental to efforts at reducing consumption, which is the most effective method for reaching a goal of "zero-waste". However, "zero-waste" itself may be a self-defeating concept, in as far as waste is an inseparable part of life, one that we may do well to accept and deal with, rather than seek to eliminate. For example, the article mentions that wooden chopsticks are recycled to pulp, that is in turn made into paper. This is okay, but wouldn't it be better to simply do away with wooden chopsticks altogether? Is it so hard to wash and re-use? It seems to me that instead of thinking ways to deal with waste in a quantitative manner (zero-waste), we would do well to think of waste qualitatively. Does this waste NEED to be produced? If so, can we do anything useful with the waste? It appears we should do away with the term "waste" itself, as it connotes something bad that must be gotten rid of. Not all "waste" is bad. . .starting here we might begin to think of new ways of using and reusing the things in our lives.

This article also caught my attention because of the reference made to resistance among older village residents to the new recycling program. Though I haven't found specific resistance to movements in Otaki that draw on broader environmentalist themes, I have noticed an alienation among older residents concerning such things. Because notions of "nature" have developed largely in urban areas, older residents of Otaki have little sense of the concept. For these residents the natural environment is very much a reality of their lives--at times mundane, wondrous, dangerous, etc.--rather than something romanticized and inherently good or whole. Therefore, a recycling program, for example, framed as a way to help the environment appears to have much less resonance among those who have grown up non-urban environments. It's easy to disregard the attitudes and postures of older residents, and often this is what occurs. However, this is an elitist and presumptuous position to take, and it ignores the vast body of experience and knowledge that local residents hold concerning their environment. At the same time, we cannot canonize all of the beliefs held by community members; besides, these beliefs are not homogeneous and so they cannot be represented as such.

There's a need for dialogue and democracy when it comes to matters concerning the local environment. In Otaki this situation does not exist; the national forestry office makes most management decisions, and local residents largely allow this by accepting that they have no voice in such matters. Larger environmentalist themes, dressed in their guise of unquestionable science, are used to legitimize the authority of the national forestry office. In this situation power operates in the realm of words, which are then translated into policy and eventually on the ground realities. It's important, therefore, that local residents educate themselves in the language of contemporary environmentalism, so that their voices can be heard as well.

Anyway, kudos to Kamikatsu for their efforts at recycling. I hope more communities in Japan will follow suit. However, space needs to be opened for the varied views and opinions of local residents to be heard.

1 comment:

Ojisanjake said...

Great post. Part of the problem with recycling in Japan is that it stimulates consumption. My neighbor recently tore down his house and had a new one built. The old house was destroyed. All the glass smashed, and all the aluminium windows and doors crushed and sent to be recycled. The house was only 30 years old. The aluminim doors and windows could have been removed and reused, but it was cheaper to just trash them. Good for the window and door companies as a whole housefull of new doors and windows were bought, and good for Japan's recycling rate, as a whole bunch more aluminum was "recycled".