Japan’s cities are very clean and Japan is often cited as world leading in recycling. However, it is no co-incidence that Japan is good at recycling. Japanese people produce tonnes of plastic trash every single day. Actually it is even worse than in China. Everything you buy is wrapped in several layers of plastic so they have to be super efficient in recycling if they want to keep their cities clean. After traveling in Japan for 3 weeks we want to share our zero waste travel tips for Japan with you to be a good example and fight the plastic waste.
Plastic Bags are Everywhere so Bring Your own Bag
It is really shocking to see how many plastic bags are used at any place in Japan. Everything you buy is wrapped in plastic. At the counter they will give you a small plastic bag to put your groceries in and then a big plastic bag to carry everything. That is insane, just refuse all of the plastic bags and bring your own bag. Today it took me 5 minutes to explain that I want to buy a baguette without wrapping 🙂 but we will keep explaining.
Sometimes you also need a bag to carry your shoes at some tourist spots like the Himeji Castle.
Bring Your own Chopsticks
I would say about 50% of the restaurants we visited used disposable chopsticks, spoons or forks. This is really a quick fix just bring your own. You will also get a wet tissue before eating which is also wrapped in plastic we just didn’t use it and gave it back.
Bring Your own Cup and get Discount
I am sure during your Japan trip you would like to have some coffee or matcha tea, so be prepared. Everywhere you will get plastic and paper cups. If you bring your own cup you will not only reduce waste you will also save money. For example at Starbucks you will get 20JPN discount at some coffee shop chains like Ueshima you will get 50JPN. Family Markt and SevenEleven don’t offer any discount (yet).
Every time I had a soy matcha latte at Starbucks and gave them my 0.6l bottle they always filled it up completely even I only ordered size S.
The Tap Water is Safe to Drink in Japan so Refill Your own Bottle
The water quality in Japan is excellent you can refill your bottle in restaurants, public toilets and the place you stay for free. Besides being eco-friendly, we also saved a significant amount of money by bringing our own water on excursions.
Bring Your own Bowl for Takeaways
Japan is an expensive country so if you find some delicious food for good price it makes sense to take it on the next train ride or to your apartment. At some places like the farmers market in Tokyo we could choose an extra topping on our bowl just because we brought our own food containers.
Refuse Leaflets you Don’t Need
Japan is well-known for friendly people and excellent service. Therefore at every place tones of leaflets will be offered to you to make your stay a good experience. I think that is great, but sometimes it is just too much. At the end you will end up with a pile of papers and leaflets and you will only read half of it. Most accommodation have such leaflets, take the ones you need read them and put them back for the next traveler. If you don’t need the leaflets just refuse them. Or just take a minute to scan them you can read most of it and give it back immediately or take a picture with your smartphone. Also sometimes they will give you little presents e.g. a little notebook, just refuse it to travel light.
There is a good Tokyo booklet that is available at every tourist spot around town called the “Tokyo Handy Guide”. Don’t take it you can download it here. It is also available as an app for Android and iOS just search Tokyo Handy Guide.
Have Your Guidebook as an E-Book on Your Mobile Phone
If you travel for a longer time and to many different places you need to think carefully about what to pack. For convenient traveling you should try to pack as a light as possible (This is also very hard for us). We decided to get all our travel guides for our whole world trip as an E-Book. We have them on both our phones and can check things very quickly and easily from wherever we are. If you have a good guidebook you actually don’t need most of the leaflets. Usually I am also more a book person and like to have a real guidebook, but if you travel to many different places it is just not possible to bring all the guidebooks. So I decided to pack some more shirts and have the guidebooks and E-Books. That is better for the environment and also saves money. Usually the digital versions of books are a bit cheaper.
Zero Waste Tips for Your Hotel Stay
Japan is a developed country and even the “cheaper” hotels have a high standard. Most hotels offer disposable toiletries and house shoes. Just use your own things which probably have a better quality and fits your needs better.
Furthermore in a lot hotels they come and clean your room everyday which means they will change the bed sheets and towels every single day. If you also think that is a big waste then just hang the “do not disturb” card on your room, so the staff will not change your bed sheets and towels.
Switch off the hot Water in your Airbnb or Apartment
If you should stay in an Airbnb or apartment accommodation you can save some energy if you switch off the hot water during your sightseeing time. In front of every bathroom there is water temperature regulator where you can adjust how hot the water should be. If you are not there just switch it off, after you return you can switch it on again. The water is heated pretty quick. Also leave the temperature like it is, most have a standard setting of 42 degree.
Join Clean-ups and Connect with Locals who Share the Same Ideas
It is always an amazing experience to connect with like-minded people around the world. So we researched on Facebook, Instagram and Meet-up if there were any clean-ups and we were lucky and found one in Tokyo. We collected the rubbish in the streets of Shibuya and had some nice talks. It is very clean in Japan, but we still found quite something in a very short time. Afterwards we had a nice veggie soup made be one of the first zero waste advocates in Japan Takako. If you also want to join some activities of the organization CAT please check their Facebook.
What are the things you do during your travels that you could change on your next trip? All it takes is right there in your hand. Be the change.