Waste recycling: how to reduce the number of landfills

During Soviet times, the pioneers collected and handed in waste paper and scrap metal. But this was not a mass phenomenon. In those days there was a tradition of throwing rubbish into a ravine near the nearest forest. Fifteen or twenty years ago you could easily find a recycling point and return beer bottles for a ruble and a half. Today in Russia there is no tradition of rubbish sorting – there are just a few recycling points and a few companies recycling plastic, waste paper, and old tyres.

How do they deal with rubbish in Japan, the US and other countries? How efficient are incinerators? How can plastic bottles, aluminium cans and cardboard be given a second life? How much rubbish is recycled in Russia?


Japan’s population density is high because of its small size – more than 126 million people live on 370,000 square kilometres, which is a little over 2% of the territory of Russia. By comparison, 146 million people live in Russia. 70% of Japan’s territory is mountainous, so it would be illogical to waste landfill space. Moreover, Japanese found a way to enlarge their archipelago at the expense of waste: for more than 15 years they have been building islands of rubbish.

Waste sorting is compulsory for everyone in the country. Depending on the day of the week, citizens put up a certain type of rubbish, which is picked up by the waste collection service. “The rubbish disposal system itself in Tokyo is arranged in such a way that residents have no other way to dispose of their rubbish than to separate it. If unsorted waste is put out on a ‘burning rubbish’ day, it will simply not be picked up and a warning sticker will be attached,” the head of the Tokyo Environment Authority’s waste management department told Russia-1 in an interview. Failure to comply with the rules results in fines. Illegal rubbish disposal is punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a fine of 10 million yen – that’s more than 5 million rubles as of March 2018.

More than 90% of all plastic bottles in the country go into recycling and new products – including bottles and new fabrics, such as for Manchester United footballers’ uniforms. Care is taken not to add new petroleum products to the circulation. Instead, almost all bottles produced in Japan are made from pellets from recycled waste.

Rubbish has been incinerated in Japan since 1924, when the first incinerator was built and the tradition of separating rubbish into burning and non-burning was born. It is so safe that such plants operate even within the city limits of Tokyo near schools, residences, parks and golf clubs. More than 2,400 filters in the plant make sure the production process is clean and no smoke is visible. The energy generated by the incineration of the waste provides electricity for the production plants and makes it possible to make a profit by selling the surplus to energy companies.

“At meetings with residents every six months we show all the figures on gas emissions. We tell both the good and the bad, and what problems the plants have, breakdowns. And we have our own regulations, which are several times stricter than the government indicators,” Tokyo Waste Management Association director and head of international communications Motoaki Koboyashi told the newspaper in 2017. At the same time, Andrey Vorobyov, governor of the Moscow region, promised to build plants in the region using the same technology.


In the US there is a one-stream system: citizens do not sort the recyclable waste – it is handled by special organisations, a link between the “sources” of waste and the recycling companies. But they have to separate recyclable waste from waste with which nothing can be done in advance – separate food waste from other waste, put rubbish in several types of bins and put them out on certain days, throw clothes and shoes in special containers in the city. You can get money from automated collection points if you drop off aluminium cans and plastic bottles on your own. The sorting of recyclable waste takes place in several stages. First, children’s toys, cloth bags and clothes are taken manually from the conveyor belt to the landfill. In the next phase, air currents separate the lightweight paper from the heavier waste, such as cans and bottles. Steel debris is picked up by one magnet, while paramagnetic aluminium is extracted using another magnet. After this stage the plastic containers are left on the conveyor: they are sorted using an optical sensor which detects different density and thickness of the plastic. The right waste is separated with an air current. All of the recovered material is then sorted into briquettes which are sold.

Aluminium cans are one of the main sources of income for recycling companies. Aluminium is reused to make new cans, bicycles and car parts.