September 28, 2018
You are not only a scientist but also an activist. Why did you get involved in this local activism? Are the educated people in Japan somehow required to “pay off” their obligations towards their fellow countrymen?
The motto of our university is freedom – freedom of life and lifestyle. I admit that I really love this motto. Coming back to the very beginning – when I was a student, I wanted to change the University and all our community. At that time, the Kyoto Protocol was being adopted. I was excited by both the document and what was happening around it. I got involved in the changes, I wanted the university to be more environmentally friendly. Therefore, I organized a group of like-minded students who wanted to act. Such were the beginnings of my social activism.
Is the problem of waste pollution serious in Japan?
The problem was significant mainly in the 1970s but a lot has changed since then and a huge amount of work has been done. We took a German and British example in the area of pro-ecological solutions in technology but also concerning educational efforts.
The atomic plant disaster, which happened in Japan a few years ago, showed, however, that the dangers still exist.
That is why there was a wide and serious debate on nuclear risks and energy policy. The majority of scientists from the Kyoto University are opposed to solutions adopted by the government.
The government wants to continue the nuclear program and the scientists disagree with it since they are aware of the consequences – also for the society. I work in the engineering faculty but I focus mainly on changing people’s attitudes and behaviors rather than on next technological solutions. The society based on nuclear power has to be transformed at its core, so that it may become more environmentally conscious and friendly. The Fukushima 1 accident made us even more aware of that.
You are involved in the 3R campaign: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. What are this program and the low-emission society idea about?
Japan is in a rather unique situation as most household waste is thermally treated. About 80% of such incineration plants might be in Japan. However, we do not only want to incinerate but we want to go to the next stage – a circular economy and society. Most cities have been segregating glass and plastic for years but we put increasing emphasis on waste reduction and reuse. One hundred years ago the Japanese society was still hermetic, self-sufficient, with virtually no export or import. Moreover, this required effective management, not wasting resources, multiple uses of, for example, clothes. Development and opening to the world resulted in the increase of waste amounts and that is why we have to redefine their management and think what kind of society we want to be and how we want to function.
The problem is that developed societies take care of the environment but usually only the one they live in. They often export their own waste – sometimes-dangerous waste – to poorer developing countries.
Not long ago China stopped their waste import so the world is looking for other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia or Thailand, which would accept it. We are still doing it but that will have to change in the near future. We are at a breaking point when we have to decide what next – it’s easy to just export waste but we have to modify our internal economy, so that it produces the least amount of waste possible, and learn how to manage the waste we do generate. Since World War II, when the economic development of Japan was very dynamic, many new infrastructures was constructed – buildings, bridges, roads, for instance before the Olympic Games 50 years ago. In the future, we will also have to find a way to utilize this infrastructure or use it differently.
* * *
Misuzu Asari, Associate Professor at the University of Kyoto, a member of the Japanese Society of Material Cycles and Waste Management
Her present area of activity is researching waste management, especially of dangerous waste from households and the analysis of its circulation, as well as managing waste left after disasters and practical research on small islands. She is also involved in the 3R campaign (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) which aims at raising social awareness concerning waste. She is working on the “3R and low carbon-emission society” program for the development of human resources. She organizes an international academic conference and promotes the 3R research network. She conducts research concerning sustainable growth at the university (including environmental management system, ecological education, and lifestyle), as well as environment communication. Professor Asari is also working on a local environmental project – she set up a civic group and helped with investments in her local community – she was instrumental in the installation of solar equipment on a school roof.
She has authored many publications on waste management.