March 31, 2006


Lessons Learned from Illegal Waste Dumping at Prefectural Borders - AnInitiative by Iwate Prefecture

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.43 (March 2006)
"Initiatives and Achievements of Local Governments in Japan" Article Series No.12

Japan's Waste Categories

In Japan waste is classified roughly into two categories - general waste and industrial waste - based on the national Waste Disposal and Public Cleansing Law. The industrial waste category includes 20 types of waste generated during business activities, and imported waste. The general waste category includes household wastes and wastes generated during business activities other than the types of wastes included under the industrial waste category.

Waste Disposal and Public Cleansing Law (Japanese only)

Local authorities are responsible for the disposal of general wastes, based on a principle of waste disposal within the municipality. As for industrial waste, in principle the companies that generate the waste are responsible for its disposal, but unlike the case for general waste, there are no regulations governing the choice of disposal site. Also, companies can consign industrial waste disposal to licensed contractors, and most of them do. Even so, the original producers are responsible for the wastes until they are properly disposed of.

In a large metropolitan area like those around Tokyo, however, it is difficult to secure intermediate facilities such as incinerators or landfill, resulting in problems that prevent waste from being treated within the municipality. Thus, much of the industrial waste generated in these areas is in fact transported and treated in other prefectures. Unfortunately, many malicious industrial waste disposal contractors illegally dump the waste in mountainous areas.

Illegal dumping of industrial waste at the Aomori-Iwate border

In 1998, industrial waste was illegally dumped at the border between Aomori and Iwate Prefectures. The disposal site was an isolated field of 27 hectares on the border between Ninohe in Iwate Prefecture and Takko in Aomori Prefecture, close to Lake Towada, which lies in Towada Hachimantai National Park. Located 500 kilometers away from the Tokyo Metropolitan area, this tranquil hilly area grew into the largest illegal waste dump site in Japan.

The property belonged to an industrial waste disposal firm in Aomori Prefecture, but industrial waste supposed to be "compost" was piled up outside the site, creating serious environmental pollution including foul odors and water pollution. The volume of illegally disposed waste was 820,000 cubic meters, nearly twice as much as the 450,000 cubic meters dumped at Teshima Island in Kagawa Prefecture, formerly the largest illegal dumping site. Most of it was industrial waste disposed of by an intermediate processor in Saitama prefecture that was supposed to have been recycled as refuse-derived fuel (RDF), but because the recyclable waste was mixed in with other plastic, paper and metal wastes, none of it could be recycled as fuel.

Furthermore, lead and volatile chloride compounds such as tetrachloroethylene and dichloromethane, said to be carcinogenic, were detected in more than 200 metal drums dug up from the ground. It was reported that a pink lake appeared on the site and that an acid odor reminiscent of organic solvent wafted through the air. Mr. Minoru Chiba, an official of Iwate Prefecture looks back on those days and his realization that municipalities should not tolerate such outrageous behavior. Mr. Chiba is a co-author of the book "Illegal dumping of industrial waste on the border of Aomori and Iwate prefectures--Policy and legal affairs know-how" (Dai-ichi Hoki) and was one of the persons in charge of drawing lessons from the incident in order to craft local ordinances to deal with the situation.

Measures taken by Iwate Prefecture

Should illegal dumping occur, the municipality can order those who caused the situation and those who generated the waste to clean up the mess and appropriately dispose of the waste. But since it takes a long time to identify the perpetrators and original waste producers, and because waste left on the site during such a long period of time would negatively affect the environment, the municipality adopted a system called "substitute execution," whereby the authorities go ahead and remove the waste and then charge the perpetrators with the cost. However, if the perpetrators have gone bankrupt or for some other reason cannot pay the compensation claims, the municipality would end up having to pay for the waste removal with public funds.

In this particular case, the victimized citizens of Aomori and Iwate prefectures would never accept paying for the removal of waste generated in the metropolitan area out of their taxes. Therefore, in order to carry through with the polluter-pays principle, Iwate prefecture resorted to invoking the Civil Affairs Preservation Law to provisionally seize properties belonging to the waste disposers before substitute execution was carried out, thereby securing 260 million yen (about US$2.22 million) for cleanup costs.

Not only did they pursue the responsibility of the direct perpetrators of the illegal dumping, but also of the more than 10,000 companies that originally generated the industrial waste that was subsequently illegally dumped. It took a whole year to sort out the waste manifests in order to identify these companies. However, the cost of the cleanup adds up to 66 billion yen (about US$56.41 million), including the cleanup on the Aomori side of the border, and the debt incurred weighs heavily on both prefectures. Iwate Prefecture discloses information about illegally dumped wastes and its countermeasures on their webpage.

Iwate prefecture special emergency office for illegal dumping of industrial waste (Japanese only)

Three ordinances enacted to promote a recycling-based society

"The northern Tohoku region must not become a dumping site for metropolitan waste." Under this slogan, the three prefectures of Northern Tohoku - Aomori, Iwate and Akita - created a working group to consider a regional industrial waste disposal system. Because the Tohoku region abounds with mountainous areas, large volumes of waste generated in the metropolitan area are being brought in, and major cases of illegal dumping are found everywhere. To stem this disorderly flow of industrial waste from large cities, it was necessary for as many prefectures as possible to join forces to implement countermeasures.

The working group discussed issues such as prior consultation with the prefectures before industrial wastes can be carried in from other areas, collection of cooperative funds for the process and a tax system for industrial wastes. Based on these discussions, at a summit meeting for northern Tohoku governors held in August 2002, the governors of the three prefectures agreed to simultaneously adopt industrial waste ordinances in their prefectures.

The business sector expressed understanding for the industrial waste measures taken by three prefectures, but was specifically opposed to the introduction of a fund for environmental conservation, because of the additional economic burden that would be imposed in a context of severe economic conditions. Iwate Prefecture repeatedly explained that the revenue from the planned tax and funds would be funneled back into industry as a funding resource for new environmental industries. It also pointed out that, as a victim of one of the nation's largest illegal dumping cases, the prefecture had no other option but to block the influx of wastes in order to assuage citizens' concerns about safety.

As a result, at the Iwate prefectural assembly of December 2002, the so-called "Three Ordinances for a Recycling-based Society" were passed, as follows:

1. Ordinance concerning the formation of a recycling-based society
2. Ordinance concerning prior consultation on bringing industrial waste from other prefectures
3. Ordinance for industrial wastes in Iwate Prefecture.

Ordinances identical to the latter two ordinances were also adopted in Aomori and Akita prefectures. (Japanese) (English)

Formation of sustainable local communities with sound material cycles

Trans-boundary shipping of industrial waste makes it difficult to identify whose responsibility it is to treat the waste. Because so many companies have been involved in the process prior to final disposal, information on how and by whom it was produced is often missing or obscure. Thus, the most important principle guiding proper processing of industrial waste is that the producing company should be responsible for the entire process through to final disposal under its own direct purview.

Iwate Prefecture is promoting an initiative to process industrial waste produced within the prefecture or its immediate surroundings. The idea is to set up a system to dispose of waste as far as possible within the prefecture, or within the three northern Tohoku prefectures, or at the most within the region including the six prefectures of the greater Tohoku area. To form a sustainable society with sound material cycles, the prefecture thinks it is essential to set up a trans-boundary system that makes it possible to appropriately recycle various types of waste.

As long as our social system is based on mass production and mass consumption, illegal dumping will be a universal problem throughout Japan. For local governments, it is unacceptable to use tax revenues from citizens who suffer from the environmental damage to clean up illegal wastes carried in from other prefectures. Similar legislation for trans-boundary industrial wastes is being set up. As landfill sites for treating industrial waste run out, the need for corporate social responsibility and initiatives for zero-emission is growing rapidly.

(Staff writer Ichie Tsunoda)