Waste management in Japan:Lessons for Ghana

zoomlion-truckOne major problem confronting Ghana is that of waste management.

Accra, the capital city, for instance, has been grappling with the issue of how to manage the mountains of refuse and other forms of waste generated by households and industries.

The city authorities seem to be at their wits end trying to formulate strategies to tackle the problem.

That is why I was fascinated by how efficiently Japan has handled the issue of managing its waste.

During my tour of Japan so far, I have not come across any garbage accumulated, and the streets are so clean; indeed it makes one wonder whether the people generate any waste at all.How has Japan, a nation with a population of over one hundred and twenty million, been able to manage its waste?

The answer simply, is the setting of goals, planning, commitment to implementing the strategies, and massive investment to achieve success. The lessons derived from the Tokyo Model developed by the 23 Cities of Tokyo will suffice.

The 23 Cities of Tokyo refers to 23 individual and autonomous municipal authorities which make up the Tokyo Metropolitan (provincial) area, the central area of Tokyo in which the core political, administrative and economic functions of Japan are allocated.

Tokyo is, undoubtedly, one of the largest cities in the world in terms of economic activity and,  indeed, it is considered the world’s largest city in terms of its economy. The Global Power City Index ranks it first, above New York, with London placing fourth, Paris fifth, and Geneva tenth.

As should be expected, it has attracted a large influx of workers from the other prefectures who have tremendously blown its population,  with current estimates placing it at over nine million in the 23 Cities area alone.

An area with such a huge population is bound to have a problem of waste management, but the Global Power City Index again ranks it in sixth place in terms of environmental management, Geneva being the first, London placing twelve, Paris fifteenth, and New York twenty-fourth.

So how did it achieve this feat?


Confronted with the problem of how to manage the waste generated by households and industries, the authority and the residents as well as public and private sector institutions, with the skills and passion for a clean environment, worked together in exploring ideal models for municipal waste management and established the Clean Authority of TOKYO (CAT23), a multi-purpose local government body, to mainly deal with the intermediate treatment of solid waste.

The 23 Cities, working in collaboration with the CAT23, came up with the Tokyo Model which developed strategies in four main areas to deal with the situation: Waste generation, collection/transport, incineration/energy recovery and final disposal.

Under Waste Generation, the focus was on working towards reducing the volume of waste, sorting waste at source, recycling based on the 3R principle (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), as well as classifying waste that is inappropriate for incineration by sorting and converting it to other resources.

The Collection/transport strategy ensured the efficient collection of all the waste generated within the day and transporting it to the treatment facilities such as incineration plants, with a target of 100 per cent success.

The Incineration/ energy recovery and the Final disposal strategies not only sought to promote the treatment of the waste collected, but also to transform it for other uses.

Various measures were introduced to ensure the success of the programme. These included the enactment of the Cleaning Act, the Act on Urgent Measures for Improving the Living Environment and Related Facilities, development and introduction of incineration technologies, improvement of efficiency in collection and transporting.

New and innovative incinerating plants were introduced, the policy of separate collection was adopted together with community-based voluntary collection, and a recycling campaign was launched backed by in-depth dialogues with the residents through explanatory meetings and construction/operating committees.

In 1991, a fee for bulk waste was introduced, and then charging for all types of business-related waste commenced, while an Act on Special Measures against Toxins was passed in 1999, followed by the establishments of various recycling acts.

In 2000, the municipal waste management duties were totally transferred to the 23 Cities, and gasification furnaces and ash melting facilities were introduced in 2008 and enhanced. These were followed with the waste plastic thermal recycling.

To further enhance their plans and ensure 100 per cent success, the 23 Cities of Tokyo and the CAT 23 decided to renovate and expand the Nerima Incineration Plant, one of the 1,200 incinerating plants in Japan. The result is an ultra-modern edifice with a processing capacity of 500 tonnes. The renovation began in 2012 and was completed in November 2015.

Concerned about environmental pollution and desirous of preventing the situation whereby the plant would be adding to the problems, the designers took measures to ensure a smell and odour-free operation. Hence, the waste processing plant located in a densely-populated area does not cause any smell at all.

As I walked through the plant and even in front of the processing unit, there was no smell.


The entire process began daily with trucks owned by the municipal authorities collecting garbage from homes and transporting them to the incinerating plant.

The household waste is collected free of charge because, according to Mr Nobyoshi Shiratori of the International Cooperation Office for Waste Management, the authorities did not want the payment of fees to be a hindrance in the smooth operation of the system. Thus only industries and institutions producing bulk waste are made to pay for what they generate.

Usually, the incineration process produces by-products that pollute the air and water, but the Nerima Incinerating Plant deploys treatment technologies for detoxifying such substances. The automatic combustion control enables full combustion of the waste, and prevents the generation of dioxins in the exhaust during incineration. Hazardous materials are also removed using the latest treatment technologies.

During processing, the waste goes through a gas scrubber and is burnt, resulting in gas which is also processed into energy and sold to various institutions.

The residue in the form of ash is also processed and solidified for use at landfill sites and in land reclamation projects. Thus, the waste generated after-all, is processed and used to generate more income.

Even though waste management involves a lot of money, the 23 Cities have been able to successfully execute it because of the willingness of the political and administrative authorities to inject funds into it, and the involvement of the industrial sector as well as the citizenry.


Ghana can derive a lot of lessons from the example set by the 23 Cities of Tokyo and the CAT23.

The government has tried to manage the situation by organising the monthly National Sanitation Day campaign but this is plainly an adhoc measure, as it is becoming obvious that public interest in the clean-up exercises is waning.

It needs to allocate more funds to the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies to operate, but that should be dependent on the adoption and implementation of pragmatic and efficient policies and programmes like the 23 Cities did in developing and pushing forward with the Tokyo Model.

In Accra, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and its satellite assemblies such as the Ledzokuku/Krowor, La Dadekotopon, La Nkwantanang, Ga North, South, East and West Assemblies can team up to form something similar to the 23 Cities of Tokyo and pool resources to confront the waste problem.

It is noted that a few years ago, the Zoomlion Company, the leading waste handling company in the country, established a waste processing plant beyond Midea, near Amasaman, but this plant has folded up because of lack of support.

The group of assemblies in Accra can take up the venture and partner with the owners of the plant to turn it into a giant processing outfit comparable to the Nerima Incineration Plant.

The mountains of waste in Accra look frightening, but with proper planning, commitment and more funding, it can be successfully managed.

 From Jim MaCauley, Tokyo

Print Friendly

Leave a Comment