Governments throughout the world are hurrying to find solutions to the problem of food loss, as is the global consumer goods industry through The Consumer Goods Forum and its Food Waste Resolution
. In Japan, the negative impacts of waste generation and food loss are felt with a particular intensity. With a very small amount of arable land, our island nation must spend precious financial and natural resources in order to import food from other nations. Sadly, a great deal of these foodstuffs will be thrown away, which is not only wasteful, but increases costs of disposal and CO₂ emissions in the process.
The Move Toward a “Recycling-Oriented Society”
In order to manage resources more efficiently and reduce the negative impact of waste on society and the environment, the Japanese government created a set of laws which aim to position Japan as a “recycling-oriented society”. The laws, enacted in 2001, provide detailed guidelines which direct national and local government entities, businesses, and citizens on how to manage, reduce, and recycle waste.
To address the issue of food loss
, some businesses are turning to food recycling―the process of using leftover food for other uses such as animal feed and compost. In particular, retailers in Japan such as AEON, 7 and i Holdings (7-Eleven), and UNY are implementing food recycling programs into their stores.
Sorting and Weighing: Two Keys to Waste Reduction
There are two components that are absolutely essential in making this recycling-oriented society a reality: sorting waste into categories and grasping the amount of each type of waste that is generated. The former component is made possible through the detailed guidelines spelled out in the recycling law. For the latter, some retailers are turning to scale-based waste management to monitor the volume of waste production.
Scale-based waste management is the process of weighing refuse, recording the weight, and analyzing the results. This simple process has proven to be extremely effective for reducing waste, with results being virtually immediate.
One company using such a system is Japanese supermarket and retail giant, UNY Co., Ltd., which has implemented scale-based waste management in all 222 of its retail outlets. UNY’s commitment to sustainable retail practices has helped the company realize a 10 percent decrease in waste in just six years between 2008 and 2014. This astonishing 9-million-kilogram decrease in waste is in part a result of this weighing technology. Refuse is weighed by category, and the data is recorded and analyzed by the CSR department. If numbers show that the amount of burnable waste exceeds non-burnable (recyclable) waste by 25 percent, the department executes a re-evaluation and considers strategies for improvement.
Raising a “3R” Spirit and Closing the Loop through Food Recycling
As mentioned before, managing waste—whether by scale-based management or other means—is only possible by strict adherence to guidelines for waste categorization. UNY breaks down waste into five general categories and seventeen sub categories, including “unused parts of fish” and “tempura flakes”. Great care is taken to sort waste into its proper category, whether that means removing plastic labels from PET bottles or flattening and drying out used drink cartons. Employees are educated on waste management, the importance of following the 3Rs, and how the waste will be recycled into new resources.
Only after grasping the amount and sorting it into categories can food waste be sent to a facility for recycling. The material can then be made into compost for crops or feed for animals, which in turn will produce meat and vegetables to be sold in supermarkets, minimizing waste and closing the resource loop. Retailers that successfully implement this system are able to establish a value chain with clear traceability, and a sense of trust with their eco-minded consumers.
It is important to mention that the benefits of following such an intricate process are not only ecological, but also economical. It goes without saying that more waste generation means higher costs for disposal. Also, businesses can add to their revenue by selling the organic waste. This creates a balance between environmental goals and business operations.
Our Common Goal: How to Protect Our Limited Resources?
While the problems associated with food waste affect society as a whole, each country has its own ways of dealing with them. My hope is that by sharing this one perspective, it will enrich the discussion and allow us to choose best practices that truly make a difference.
If consumers, employees, and business owners work together with a strong sense of awareness and personal responsibility, it can be a force for positive change. While some might consider our complex sorting systems somewhat burdensome, the fact is that they are already engrained into the fabric of modern Japanese society and way of life. Just as education can bring peace and prosperity to developing nations, awareness of the importance of the 3Rs and a spirit of cooperation can contribute to a recycling culture that values the Earth and its precious resources.
This post was written and contributed by:
Wrapping & Ecological System Division
Teraoka Seiko Co., Ltd. (DIGI)