What to do with that junk you can't bring yourself to throw out
With limited land space for trash, Japan makes its citizens divide their trash into categories like "burnables," "plastics" and "annoying relatives." I don't pretend to understand all the nuances of what's burnable and what's not. As far as I'm concerned, everything is burnable with the application of enough heat, even those annoying relatives. I still think this is a sensible system, though. I'm hoping all our separated trash goes to recycling centers and ends up rendered into brand new things we can recycle later when we deplete their usefulness.
The small town my parents lived in for many years tried in vain to get people to recycle. Either the city or county government set up large bins clearly marked as to what you were supposed to feed them. My dad became a stickler for putting everything in the correct bin, but our old-fashioned neighbors felt this was creeping Clintonism (read "socialism") and refused to participate in separating their refuse. Eventually the city gave up and removed the bins and restored freedom to the local republic. They were just a step away from atheism and race mixing, I guess. A guy I used to know when I lived in Athens, Georgia, raged at all the "progs" who advocated recycling. He was so pro-America he loved to throw his garbage out the car window just to spite them.
One thing I love about living in Japan is recycling exists as a common sense measure rather than something you can argue politics over. It's very pragmatic. Like my dad. There may be some assholes like the people who wouldn't do it in that town or that guy I knew but they're more than likely acting out of laziness rather than some willfully antithetical philosophy. Laziness I can understand. Destroying what you claim to love because you think you're proving a point is incredibly stupid. But I prefer my dad's way of doing things. Do the right thing at the right time in the right way.
Because we're consumers, my wife and I have accumulated a lot of things we're kind of stuck with for the moment. Well, let me clarify. I have accumulated these things. My wife grudgingly tolerates them. I have clothes I've worn almost to pieces and obsolete electronics with dangerous metals and chemicals inside them. The local municipality provides each household with a calendar showing the dates when you can dispose of these items. Your refrigerators that no longer refrigerate and kerosene heaters that have decided the best way to heat your house is by burning it down. It's very easy to miss the correct days, though. They come just once a month and sometimes you're doing other things that day. And sometimes we just forget. Forget for months or even years at a time.
Recently, though, they've taken an empty lot near a pharmacy and set up a 24 hour collection point for all kinds of bulky, difficult-to-dump crap. So we'll soon begin the tedious process of figuring out what we need and what we don't. Now that someone, somewhere, has made it easy for us to drop this stuff off and send it away where it can be rendered into its constituent molecules and reassembled into brand-new things to buy and re-recycle, there are no more excuses. I'm actually happy about this. I hate going through the process (although once I start, all sentimentality drops away and I become ruthless and even cruel about what I toss out), but at the end we're rewarded by endorphins and the feeling we're traveling light, free of burdens.