Any kind of trash disposal in Japan will be confusing coming from just about any other country. If the language barrier does not get you, the labels or proper way to crunch the bottles will. While many people simply have a hate/hate relationship with trash disposal in Japan, you may come to embrace the ingenuity of the trash disposal systems here and begin to have a love/hate or even love/love relationship with trash disposal in Japan. Better understanding the system and learning to work the system will definitely help you make that progress. Large garbage (sodai gomi) can be one of the most annoying things to dispose of in Japan. For one, regardless of you being in Tokyo, Kyoto, or the countryside, most places in Japan are not spacious. So a giant dresser or broken table could really affect your ability to cross a room. Therefore, it is important to figure out the fastest way to get that giant garbage out of your home. Here are some of the ways to do that:
Go the Government Route
This may seem obvious but it is a little more complicated than you would expect. So the first thing you should do would be to check your city’s policies regarding large trash. Fortunately, most cities have uploaded guides to trash disposal and many have an English explanation. So look for something like this:
If this is the right garbage disposal method for you there are actually three options for doing this:
Schedule trash pickup
Follow the instructions and call your trash disposal center, make an appointment for pickup, and pay for the big trash sticker. This is a good option if you are very organized and not afraid of what could be a mostly in Japanese phone call situation. If the phone lines are busy and city hall is not too far away you can fill out the application for pickup at city hall and pay for the sticker there.
Take your trash to the dump
If you have a car or rent one, or have a friend that drives, you can just take your trash to your local dump. This is a good option especially if you have multiple items because you can do it all at once and the risk of a mistake is much smaller than the appointment/leave outside method. The only thing to be careful of is that you know if your large garbage is burnable or non-burnable and go to the correct trash center for the applicable kind of garbage. Some garbage disposal plants require time reservations and others do not, so be sure to check. They will also ask for some kind of verification that you live in that city, so have your residence card or some mail available for proof.
Wait for the annual or biannual free large trash pickup (some cities do not offer this)
If you are very organized and the trash is not time sensitive then this is a great option. About two weeks before the annual or biannual free large trash pickup the government sends out fliers explaining what will be accepted and when to put your trash outside. The dates can also be found on the city’s website or at city hall. If you get the flier it is smart to think if there is anything you want to get rid of because free large trash disposal is a rare and wonderful thing in Japan.
If none of these options work for you, you are not alone. Especially if you are trying to get rid of items that are not broken there might be a few methods that are better alternatives and you could actually make a little money rather than spending it on trash.
Try to sell it or give it away for free
Have you offered all your friends your old kitchen table and nobody wants it but you still want it out of your house? No problem! Try these other methods:
Take it to a recycle store
Furniture accepting recycle stores are harder to find in Tokyo but in the greater Tokyo area there are tons and they will usually pay you something for usable furniture, microwaves, refrigerators, TVs, washing machines, and items like that. Sometimes they will even accept broken items that can be used for parts, so never rule out a recycle store as a solution to your problem.
Mercari is a great app for selling items in Japan. You just take a picture of your item and select how much you want to charge for it. The only con to Merukari is that it is exclusively shipping, like eBay, so you cannot have someone come and pick it up. There is an option to have the buyer cover the shipping cost, but that usually makes the item harder to sell, because the cost would be significantly higher. Mercari is great for privacy and safety, but the shipping costs can make it harder to sell items for a profit.
They have Craigslist in Japan, it is not as popular as it is in other countries, but many foreigners use it and it is also a great way to get rid of usable items you do not need anymore.
Jimoty is a website and an app that is basically the Japanese version of craigslist. It is easy to make an account and sell items. Usually the cheaper the item is the faster someone can come and pick it up.
Facebook Mottainai Japan groups
These groups are usually good if you want to just get rid of the items. There are some groups that have items that are for sale, but Mottainai groups are usually just to give away items you don’t need. This could be a fast option if you just want to get a refrigerator out of your house.
Look for trade or return deals
Because dealing with large trash can be so hectic in Japan, furniture stores will often agree to take your old item so you can buy a new one. If you buy a new refrigerator from a store, ask them if they will take your old one. This is important to do during the negotiation process but not very difficult because it is a standard practice in Japan.
Additionally stores like Ikea, Nitori, and Costco have competitive warranties and return deals on many of their items that range from 6 months to years. So if your Ikea table breaks in your first few months in Japan do not throw it away and buy something new. You can return it for cash if you have a receipt. Even if you do not have a receipt they will likely offer a replacement. This is true of Nitori and Costco as well, so definitely always check with each company for their warranty and return conditions.
Special recycling centers for extra difficult items
Unfortunately there are some items that are especially hard to dispose of such as:
- Air conditioners
- Mattresses with metal springs
These three items definitely take the cake for being the most difficult to dispose of by traditional Japanese trash disposal methods. So definitely try the apps or craigslist or Facebook groups first. But if the items are old or dirty they might not sell or be taken and you are seemingly stuck with these huge items forever. But hopefully not:
If you bought a new refrigerator or air conditioner without asking about the disposal of your old one, that is okay too. You can call wherever you bought the new ones from and see if they know of local recycling centers for your items. They may even still be willing to take your old items if you have proof of purchase. So it is worth a shot!
Refrigerators and air conditioners are in a special category because they contain a coolant that is only recycled at certain places so the salespeople in that category probably know something about how to dispose of old or broken ones. If they don’t, you can look for recycling places that take those items near you. Some will schedule a pickup and others you have to bring the item there. They will usually charge between 3000円 to 5000円 for disposal, which is a hefty price for garbage, but this is the normal here.
A metal spring mattress is another thorn in one’s side here in Japan. City hall will just tell you there is nothing they can do because of the springs. Though this is crazy, it is another situation where you should research recycling centers and it will again cost about 3000円 to 5000円 but some places charge as much as 10,000 円.
You probably already noticed that disposing of large trash can be a significant task, however, knowing the system is the first step to beating the system. So use all the tools you have to figure out the best way for you to dump those unwanted items! Good Luck!