I’m going to talk to you today about a subject that is consistently on the hearts and minds of everyone in Japan: garbage.  No, it’s true.  It HAS to be because it has recently become more complicated than ever to throw anything away.  Many of you have heard that Prime Minister Hatoyama recently pledged for Japan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25%.  A bold move which reinforces Japan’s reputation as a leader in the worldwide effort to save the planet.  Many of you are also pretty skeptical of such a dramatic pledge.  Is it all talk?  Maybe.  But judging from the 7 – count ’em, SEVEN – different bags (each for a different type of garbage) that are currently sitting in my kitchen, I’d have to say he’ll at least make some sort of impact.

The Orange Bag: used for burnable garbage.  If it’s paper or food, toss it in.  Included are such inexplicable items as VHS tapes, CDs, and leather (only) shoes.  The Orange Bag pickup is every Monday and Thursday.

The Silver Bag: used for empty spray cans.  Even without the CFCs, they’re still causing problems. Pickup is also every Monday and Thursday, which makes me wonder how many spray cans people around here are throwing out.

The Purple Bag: used for items like noodle containers (good ol’ Cup Noodle), empty snack bags (like Doritos or shrimp chips), and egg cartons.  As long as it has the little “Pura” mark in the recycle triangle, you can toss it in this one.  You can also throw out your old supermarket plastic bags, or “soo-pah” bags as they call them here.  Pickup is the 1st and 3rd Friday of the month.

The Green Bag: used for plastic drink bottles.  This one is really fun because there are so many steps to it.  First, you remove the cap and throw that in the Orange Bag (I think, or maybe it’s the Purple one).  Then, you remove the label and definitely throw that in the Purple Bag.  Then, you have to wash out the bottle.  After that, you are free to dispose of it in the Green Bag.  See how easy it is to save the environment?  Pickup is the 4th Wednesday of the month.

The Blue Bag: used for aluminum cans and glass bottles.  I have no sarcastic comments for this one because I’m just relieved we don’t have to separate the glass and aluminum, resulting in yet another bag.  Pickup is the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month.

The Brown Bag: used for broken things that can hurt you.  Broken glasses, broken dishes, broken flower pots, and something called “kairo” which doesn’t look harmful at all based on the little picture.  I will have to look it up to see what it is so that if I ever have to throw any kairo away, I will know to put it in the Brown Bag.  Oh, and paper can go in this bag, too, because you’re supposed to wrap the broken things up before you throw them in.  Pickup is (are you ready?) the 3rd Wednesday of the 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th months only.  Yes, I’ve actually started marking the garbage days on my calendar.

The Red Bag: used for pretty much everything else.  Hair dryers, batteries, frying pans, umbrellas, you name it.  All the things that didn’t do much to improve the environment by being created can now be tossed in a bag together to continue to not do their part.  Pickup is the 2nd Wednesday of the month.

Coming from a country where we are free to throw whatever we want into the same bag, or at best throw all recyclables into the same blue bin for someone else to sort out, you can imagine that this seems a little overcomplicated.  And a bit headache-inducing.  Keep in mind that Japanese apartments are fairly small, so having half my kitchen overrun with bags is not really ideal.  But I suppose that since Japan is an over-crowded island with absolutely nowhere to escape to when the ocean inevitably starts rising and engulfing the coasts, it makes sense that they worry so much about garbage.  So I will be a good little alien and do my best to separate my garbage.

I would like to know, though, how many bags do you think Al Gore has in his kitchen?