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  • Writer's pictureLaura Pollacco

5 ways to be Eco-Friendly in Japan

In memory of Sarah Auffret, Tokushima JET 2007-2010, who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10th this year. After seeing the plastic problem on one of her local beaches Sarah aimed to do something about it, involving a local school and eventually hundreds of volunteers to help clean up the beach. She went on to become an outdoor guide for the Clean Up Svalbard project and then she joined the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) as leader for their Clean Seas Project. On the day of the crash she was on her way to the UN Environment Assembly in Kenya to discuss ocean plastic pollution. We can all follow her example of caring for our environment and do our bit here in Japan and onwards.

  1. Buy a reusable bag and bottle!

Japan is notorious for over packaging products. Everything is covered in plastic. Bananas, that have a natural protective covering of their own, wrapped in plastic, trays of biscuits, each one individually wrapped. I once saw a girl on the train eating a bag of crisps that, you guessed it, was in a plastic bag! Plastic bags and bottles account for a large percentage of plastic found in the sea. Bags are commonly mistaken as jellyfish by other marine life, such as turtles, who then choke whilst trying to eat them. There is an easy fix though. Buy a reusable bag and bottle. They come in all shapes and sizes, and if you want something compact, buy a bag that can be folded into the size of a small coin purse. If you want to go cultural and traditional, wrap your bento or your conbini purchases in a Furoshiki which can be reused and washed.

  1. Use natural, recyclable Homeware products.

Daiso may be convenient and cheap, but convenience and cheapness is one of the reasons our environment is a mess. Everything comes at a cost. When looking to buy things for your home, such as kitchenware, cleaning products etc, try to find alternatives to cheap, plastic products, even classic dish sponges are plastic and not recyclable. Use pure cotton cloths that you can wash to do the dusting and cleaning, rip up old T-shirts to help clean the toilet, recycle what you have and save money. If you go looking, there are stores in Japan that sell domestic products made from recyclable materials, such as bamboo and coconut fibres, that are great alternatives to plastic products and usually support local business. TIP: lemon juice is great as a bleach for brightening whites, cleaning the sink or bathroom and even removing rust with no nasty chemicals going down the drain!

  1. Head to Recycle Shops

Recycle shops in Japan are amazing. They sell a variety of things that are still in good condition, from clothes to homeware products to sports equipment and electrical items. You are reusing a product that is probably still in excellent condition and giving it a new lease of life rather than it ending up straight away in landfill. For those of you with unfurnished apartments, check out your nearest recycle shop for furniture before heading to Nitori and Ikea, they may not always have what you need but it’s worth checking out. Also clothing in recycle shops here can be of a very high quality as well and save you massive amounts of money in the long run (though sizing in Japan isn’t the most diverse). If you sift through for long enough you can find some real gems as well. I have found Alexander McQueen jeans, Missoni tops and Chloé dresses in my nearby recycle shops for only ¥500 each! I can go out wearing an entirely recycled outfit most days here in Japan.

  1. Reduce Your Meat

Okay, okay, I know this is a difficult one, and it would be hypocritical of me to say that I have managed this one properly myself. Before coming to Japan I had reduced my meat and fish intake to one meal a week, bought from local farm shops or butchers. But when I moved to Japan I wanted to experience the food, what Japanese cuisine had to offer, and a lot of Japanese dishes have some form of meat and fish in it. Some of you will already be vegetarian or vegan, which is great, but everyone can help by simply reducing the amount of meat and fish you eat. One of the ways I have done this recently is to cook vegetarian dishes at home. I rarely buy meat from the shops nowadays and tend to eat it when I am out at a restaurant. I cook large servings and take the rest to work, keeping my lunches meat free as often as I can. Beef has the largest carbon footprint of any meat (plus red meat is the most unhealthy), so avoiding beef or keeping it for only special occasions can help reduce your own carbon footprint.

  1. Help Your Community

Like Sarah, see how you can do your part to help your local community. It can be very small things, such as picking up litter in your area as you walk home, or larger things, such as joining volunteer groups to help the environment. This will depend very much on where your placement is. For those of you moving near the sea, find out if there is a beach cleanup event in your town. You may come to know your local area and the people who live in it better through joining such a project. Similar to Sarah, past JETs who have found that, by joining in these events, or even starting them, they have changed their lives as well as their community. One of the biggest things you can do as well, is to help educate students on the issues regarding the current Climate Crisis in your own schools.

Being in a new country can make it difficult to do many of the things we can do with ease back at home, and being environmentally friendly is one of them. Whilst we struggle to work with a new language, products we have never seen and don’t understand and a culture that we are still navigating it can be tiring, and we may feel we don’t have the effort to go to these extra lengths. The key is don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do these things all the time. So you cave and buy konbini chicken, it’s okay, or you forgot your reusable bag and have to get plastic ones instead, keep it and use it for plastic disposal at a later date. Just try your best. being in a new country does not have to stop you from being environmentally conscious and hopefully these tips can help you out. But please, do your own research and find ways that suit your lifestyle and benefit our planet! We may be in a new country but we are still living on the same planet.

To see the originally published interview please visit the Connect Issue it is featured in here.

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