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Japan environment minister calls for waste-to-energy reduction

Japan’s state minister of the environment Minoru Kiuchi has said his country ‘needs to gradually shift to other forms of recycling besides heat recovery’ and he was specifically concerned about the growing volume of plastic scrap being incinerated.

Japan currently claims to be recycling 84% of all end-of-life plastics. Almost 10% of this material is considered ‘waste’ and burned, while the remainder is landfilled, according to figures from the Tokyo-based Plastic Waste Management Institute.

But Kiuchi told a press conference that ‘recycling’ does not mean mechanical recycling. More than 65% of discarded plastic serves some sort of thermal recycling, leaving roughly 27% being recycled and another 5% used for chemical recycling.

Minister Minoru Kiuchi is passionate about reducing waste incineration in Japan

The spike in incineration is not surprising as Japan’s strong economic growth saw waste generation increase and landfills exceed capacity. Kiuchi now wants to follow the example of European recycling leaders such as Belgium by reining back on thermal waste processing.

He was backed by Hideshige Takada, a professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, who said: ‘We should prevent more incinerators from being built.’ As well as affecting recycling rates, Japan’s waste-burning practice is also contributing to global warming.

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