E-waste in Japan

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Panasonic Eco Technology Center, a recycling plant in the Hyogo Prefecture, is employing cutting-edge technology in the recycling of e-wastes. In the article, the advantages of this innovative method of waste recycling and the recycling culture of electronic waste in Japan were briefly discussed.

Japan is represented as an environmentally conscious country which makes use of legislation and technology to reduce the negative impacts on the environment caused by waste disposal. It is mandatory to recycle items such as cars, computers and other electronics in Japan, in an effort to meet the national requirement of cutting down carbon dioxide emissions and waste disposed.

Waste management has always been a major environmental concern, especially for e-waste, which can contain potentially hazardous components such as heavy metals, toxins and even radioactive material. While e-waste is the main source of toxic municipal waste, part of the discarded e-waste is still marketable for reuse or recycle through material recovery. Yet, most developed countries choose to export their e-waste to their developing counterparts. (Chea, 2007) While Japan pushes for recycling by imposing responsibilities on manufactures and consumers through legislation, a fifth of electronic waste is still being exported overseas and more than a quarter is still sent to landfills. (Kojima, 2008) According to OECD statistics, Japan does not score very well among the OECD countries with a recycling rate of 19%, and ranks 27 out of the 34 OECD countries. (OECD, 2013)

While the article seems to promote waste separation as a novel method in sorting e-waste, Japan has already been treating e-waste differently from other materials.since the 1970s. Trained workers were hired to disassemble and gather recyclable materials, however, the program was of little success as these specialised workers were too expensive to employ, and most e-waste were discarded in a landfill along with other waste. (Kojima, 2008) The technology described in the article is also limited to a single plant, while e-waste distributed to other plants in Japan may still be ‘crushed by machines ’. However, with greater reliance on technology, we can expect less emphasis on manual labour, and this lowered operational cost may encourage other plants to adopt similar technology.

Recycling in Japan is not just a result of environmental consciousness; the effort behind recycling is often propelled by profits. Research behind the technology in recycling is backed by economic motivations, the revenue it is expected to bring from exporting such technology overseas is expected to reach 1 trillion yen by 2020. Similarly, during Tokugawa period, recycling of waste was also motivated by profits. Night soil  had marketable value as fertilisers, providing an incentive for the recycling and utilisation of human waste. Rather being a hundred percent based on an active effort for environmental preservation, more often, recycling in Japan depends on the cost and profits behind the process.



Chea, Terence (18 November 2007). “America Ships Electronic Waste Overseas”. Associated Press.

Michikazu Kojima, ed. (2008). “A Comparative Study of E-waste Recycling Systems in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan from the EPR Perspective: Implications for Developing Countries”. Promoting 3Rs in developing countries – Lessons from the Japanese experience (PDF). IDE Sop Survey 30. Japan: Institute of Developing Economies, JETRO. ISBN 978-4-258-58030-9.

Environment at a Glance 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/environment/environment-at-a-glance-2015_9789264235199-en#page50nd reduces waste.

One thought on “E-waste in Japan

  1. E-waste is a major issue and Japan is clearly at the cutting edge of this. Part of the reason for this attention is due to its tragic history with pollution and industrial waste during the immediate postwar decades. Another issue is the inefficiency in importing and exporting the same rare metals and other potentially harmful components that comprise e-waste. Why not capture them at the end of the product’s life cycle in Japan so they can be sent immediately back to a factory in Japan? Indeed, the impetus to recycle may have very little to do with any love of nature. It just makes good sense.

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