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KAGOSHIMA -- A municipal rule requiring people to write their names on the garbage bags they put out for collection has raised privacy concerns in one southwestern Japan city.
"I don't like having to write my name on my garbage bag -- it's as if someone is peering into my life," a female resident of Ichikikushikino, Kagoshima Prefecture, told the Mainichi Shimbun.
The city will not collect trash bags without residents' names. However, household garbage can contain many items related to a person's privacy, and the woman is reluctant to follow the rule. The city government, meanwhile, hopes that the requirement will encourage people to properly separate their garbage. The Mainichi investigated both sides of the issue.
At 8 a.m. at one garbage collection spot in Ichikikushikino, bags of household trash bearing residents' full names were piled by the roadside. A sign at the collection spot read, "Please write your name on the designated garbage bags." A male garbage collector confirmed, "If it doesn't have a name, we won't take it."
Concerned about the rule is a woman in her 70s who moved to the city from eastern Japan's Kanto region several years ago. She had never had to write her name on garbage bags before. "By looking at the rubbish you can tell what a person is eating and drinking," she said. "I properly separate my garbage so why should I have to write my name on it?"
According to the city, the name rule started in 1996 in the city of Kushikino, later amalgamated into Ichikikushikino. A city official stressed that the purpose was "to encourage people to dispose of garbage responsibly and to promote sorting." The city says there are cases where people place gas canisters and batteries in with non-burnable garbage, causing fires at the processing facility. If a person's name is not on the trash bag or if the rubbish is not sorted properly, the bag is slapped with a sticker specifying the violation.
There are some who support the name rule. One local man in his 40s commented, "There's nothing really to be ashamed of in the garbage, and it would be more of a nuisance for them not to take it away." A 78-year-old resident said she had no objection to writing her name on the bags and expressed understanding of the measure, saying, "I've heard that there have been fires caused by dangerous items put in rubbish bags, and it must be difficult for the collectors, too."
There are other municipalities besides Ichikikushikino that require names on garbage bags. They hope that if residents' awareness about garbage, such as the promotion of sorting, increases as they would like to see, then they can expect less trash. But is this true?
The Ministry of the Environment announces the municipalities that generate a low amount of garbage per person, and the lowest generators of trash in fiscal 2020 were the villages of Kawakami and Minamimaki in Nagano Prefecture, and the town of Kamiyama in Tokushima Prefecture, all of which require people to write their names on designated rubbish bags. The town of Osaki in Kagoshima Prefecture, which had the highest recycling rate in fiscal 2020, at 83.1%, also has a name rule.
However, most cities with large populations have no such rule. There is no need for residents in Sendai and Fukuoka, designated major cities, to write their names on the bags they put out. Meanwhile, the cities of Osaka and Yokohama, as well as Tokyo's 23 wards don't even have designated rubbish bags, and people can simply dispose of rubbish in plastic shopping bags, or transparent or semitransparent bags sold at shops or that allow the contents to be checked.
One municipality that has reduced the volume of garbage despite not having a naming system is Kyoto. The average daily amount of trash discarded by residents in fiscal 2020 was 758.9 grams, below the national average of 901 grams. The municipal government has set up "Eco Town Stations" at 14 locations, including ward offices, to provide residents with advice on how to separate garbage, and officials also tour to give lectures on the subject. The Kyoto City Waste Reduction Promotion Council, whose members include citizens and companies, solicits waste reduction initiatives from the public.
The Ministry of the Environment states that it is not aware of the number of municipalities that require residents to write their names on their garbage bags. An official commented, "There are privacy and other concerns, so the government doesn't promote the practice in its guides and so on. However, it is considered to be a last resort after taking the concerns into account, and the government cannot say it should not be done, which makes it a tricky issue."
In Ichikikushikino, average daily garbage output was about 1 kilogram per capita in fiscal 2020, above the national average, while the recycling rate was 9.3%, below the national average of 20%. A city official commented, "If we stop requiring names, the situation could get worse." They added that the only option is to continue with conventional methods such as giving local lectures.
Chuo University professor Mikiko Shinoki, who has conducted research on garbage sorting and reduction, commented, "The situation regarding sorting differs according to the performance of each local body's garbage processing facility and the state of its finances." She added, "The naming system probably has some effect in the sense of having people take responsibility for garbage disposal, but due to privacy issues and concerns about stalking, I think there are also some undesirable aspects.
"It's important whether residents can agree to it or not. The municipalities should not stop at simply providing information on how to separate garbage; they also need to continue discussions with residents on why garbage separation is necessary."
(Japanese original by Keisuke Muneoka, Kagoshima Bureau)
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