The Battle Between Tokyo and Its Trash Still Lingers On

The amount of trash has been cut several times, yet there is much to be done.

The areal shot of a New Sea Surface Disposal Site in Tokyo
New Sea Surface Disposal Site, Tokyo

This might hit you as a surprise, but despite very effective trash disposal policies and all the recycling efforts, the battle between Tokyo and its trash still lingers on. In fact, there is an entire island made of garbage in the middle of Tokyo Bay.

All the garbage that gets collected in the 23 Tokyo wards gets disposed on the New Sea Surface Disposal Site. If you happen to be in this area during the day you would be able to see dozens of bulldozers and dump trucks taking care of Tokyo’s waste. The “Garbage Island” consists of multiple garbage layers and it is 30 meters thick.

The islands structure consists of real soil which gets mixed with processed sewage sludge, incinerated trash, and pulverized non-burnable trash. The methane gas that gets synthesized during the numerous decomposing processes that take the place underneath the surface of the island is regulated with exhaust pipes.

The problems with scavenging birds have been prevented by placing a layer of soil on top of the garbage.

Tokyo Has Big Plans for the Future

Tokyo Has Big Plans

According to Tokyo officials, the large-scale landfills in Tokyo Bay are going to be partially turned into parks in the future. The position of the island makes it perfect for a park. While it provides a magnificent view because it faces central Tokyo, the island has approximately 1,000 hectares of the surface to offer to landscape engineers.

This eastern side of the island will be turned into a lovely oasis with lots of leisure facilities. In fact, there is already one part of it that’s closed and under construction. Soon this will be known as Umi no Mori, which translates into Groves on the Ocean. This is going to be a rolling park with a beautiful hilltop and pine trees.

But the officials have different plans for the western part of the island. That’s where a terminal for shipping containers will be constructed.

Back in 1989, Tokyo generated 4.9 million tons of waste. In 2017, the waste was 2.7 million tons.

Large-scale Landfill is the Only Solution

The large-scale landfill in the making came into being as the ultimate solution to Tokyo’s problems with garbage. The problems originate back in the rapid industrialization period which in Japan started in the late 19th century. Several century-old landfills made Tokyo officials think hard to resolve the issue.

The first one is No. 8 landfill in Shiomi, Koto Ward, and it dates back to 1920s. The other two are landfills in Yumenoshima, which was formed in the 1950s, and one in Wakasu, formed in the 1960s.

Back in the day, more precisely in 1973, the only logical step for Tokyo Governor Ryokichi Minobe was to start the construction of the Central Breakwater landfill and help the metropolis get rid of all that waste. It’s only logical to assume that the above-mentioned landfills helped Minobe to come to the ultimate and apparently, the only solution.

The Journey of Garbage

The Journey of Garbage

Over the decades Tokyo has perfected the garbage disposal process. As we find out, it happens in several stages:

  • Garbage collection
  • Intermediate processing
  • Incineration and pulverization
  • Landfills

Let us remind you that we are talking about millions of tons of garbage. Back in 1989, Tokyo generated 4.9 million tons of waste. In 2017, the waste was 2.7 million tons. Thanks to the investing in the disposal process, Tokyo is able to bring the amount of total waste down to one-eighth, and this is the garbage that ends up in landfills.

Right at the start of the journey of garbage, we have the collection. There are numerous road signs spread around the Tokyo area that govern the disposal of waste. The rules are very strict, and some of the garbage disposal manuals are 24 pages long. The second stage – intermediate processing – goes parallel with the collection.

After the garbage is collected, it gets to one of Tokyo’s many incineration sites for burning. The whole process is monitored and regulated in real-time. The leftovers get transported and a portion of it ends up in landfills.

Every incineration site has its own pollution-control facilities working 24/7 to protect the people and the environment as well.

Leveraging the Copious Amounts of Garbage

Leveraging the Copious Amounts of Garbage

Beside the gasses that get filtered and cooled down, there are other byproducts of garbage processing. One of these is ash. After the incineration process is over the bottom ash has to be recycled, because the amount of trash that can go into landfills is limited. For instance, the Shinagawa Incineration Plant produces 180 tons of bottom ash every day.

Back in 2015, they came up with a clever way to use the bottom ash. They used it to build a substitute for clay, thus making the production of cement more affordable. This is how 5,000 tons of bottom ash ended up in cement.

Engineers also discovered that bottom ash melts at temperatures over 1,200 degrees Celsius. When cooled after melting, bottom ash turns into slag. The slag can be used to make numerous construction materials, asphalt included.

But the most important byproduct of incineration is heat. The plants all around the city capture it to generate electricity. Some of the electricity ends up being used by the very facility that produces it, but a significant portion of it ends up powering Tokyo households.

What About the Incombustibles?

Incombustibles get loaded onto trucks and transported to the processing facilities located in the Tokyo Bay. That’s where the waste gets pulverized into bits. The bits are then put under special magnets to extract iron, aluminum, and other metals. These metals are then sold. And the remaining waste finds its way into landfills.

This Is Not a Long-Term Solution

As you might have guessed the landfills have their capacity and the engineers say that, at this pace, the islands will be full in approximately 50 years. There are many efforts being made towards reducing the waste going to landfills.

The battle is far from being over, and Tokyo has to significantly cut down on waste and recycle even more to come out as the winner.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Tokyo is getting better at handling the trash the city generates, but there is a lot of space for improvements. Can this situation create new business opportunities?

What do you think?

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