Recycling Vs. Incineration, what's the difference?

Today, we are exploring recycling vs incineration because incineration is the common practice in Japan, at least for their plastics and otherwise-thrown-in-the-landfill waste. This post is in collaboration with Chura-mura and OkiLife, two eco-organizations here in Okinawa. We will be heading to do a beach clean-up and there they will have a mini-incinerator on-sight for us to explore.

Before I touch on some points from them, let’s first explore incineration since most people only really know of the landfill and recycling.

Recycling is resource recovery and reuses while incineration is quite literally burning trash but in a smart way. The incinerator we will be exploring today will take 30kg of landfill waste down to just 1kg, saving precious land. Plus, oftentimes, large-scale incinerators repurpose the heat and gases produced into electricity, reducing their use of fossil fuels. Incineration is also neat in a way that individuals can do it on their own with small machines like this while recycling almost always requires a large-scale operation (though you can easily recycle your own paper!).

Incineration is so popular in Japan because of its small amount of land. For a quick comparison, the US has about 326.7 million people and Japan has about 1/3 of that. But, Japan is about 26 times smaller when it comes to landmass. We have, unfortunately, plenty of land to bury our waste on, but Japan does not.

Burning our waste can also be handy when it comes to hazardous disposal like syringes, menstrual products, diapers, and so forth. But, don’t be concerned about this ending up in the air as scrubbers and filters are added to the combustion process to reduce the air quality impact. We will see this today with the incinerator we are looking at. The high temperature of incineration reduces the toxicity of disposal and even kills any disease pathogens.

The other good news for most countries that incinerate their waste is that they will not incinerate easily recyclable items like steel, aluminum, glass, paper, and sometimes even plastic. But, most plastics are cheaper to make from virgin materials than recycle which is why plastic is most often burned in Japan.

Incineration still isn’t a perfect option, but neither is recycling. I think incineration is helping in creating new energy sources and saving landfill space.

Be sure to check out my video here to learn more about the live incinerator machine in Okinawa and see us clean up a beach with Chura Mura and Oki Life!

Thank you so much for reading along and remember that the small changes you make have a big impact in the long run :)


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My name is Emma. I am a 20-year-old new to this sustainable lifestyle. I am here to give you my tips as I learn them and help beginners begin their sustainable life...


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