Oct 17, 2018
One thing that I love about Japan is the presence of recycling bins at train stations and convenience stores as well as near some vending machines. What I did not realize when I first arrived is that there is a recommended protocol for usage of most of these. Many of the rules are understood, never stated, but somehow seem fairly obvious given the reciprocal nature of many Japanese social customs. That said, all of these depend on the location of the container.
Conbini Protocol-- go in and buy a drink, preferably before making a deposit.
I think it works in the same way as using the bathroom at these locations in that to pay back the store for taking your garbage or letting you relieve yourself, it is recommended that you buy something inside. It needn't be terribly expensive. Just a drink or a pack of gum is enough to say thanks. My first few years in Japan, I did not do this, but on one road trip, my companions and I got a terrible glare from the shop keeper inside when we unloaded a couple of empty pet bottles into the bins provided. We then got a lecture from our Japanese friend on the topic. Apparently, you're ideally meant to go in first, but something, enjoy it on the premises and then deposit only the container for what you bought there in the bins. Personally, I've seen native Japanese people rid themselves of bottles from drinks bought elsewhere in these bins, but rarely without buying a replacement inside.
Additional notes: Watch which bin you're using, and remove the caps from bottles if there is a secondary cap container.
Train Station Protocol-- Only what you use on the train; no trash from home.
These bins can be found inside of most train stations in Japan, either near the ticket gates or on the platforms themselves. This is a great place to toss drinks finished on the train rides, snack wrappers and used tissue. Notes, sometimes in English, can occasionally be found nearby, asking people not to deposit garbage from their homes here. I've never seen anyone abuse this too badly, but a good rule of thumb is to only get rid of stuff used on the train.
Vending Machine Protocol-- Stuff you bought there; Don't overflow!
Some vending machines have these nearby, ready to accept deposits akin to those available in the machines. Just like with the convenience stores, it is recommended that you deposit containers from the beverages in the machine or at least buy something to make up for leaving your used container there. The difference is the more limited selection and lack of potentially-scowling clerk. Sometimes, in areas of higher population density or lower upkeep, these containers can overflow, in which case it is recommended that you take your garbage elsewhere and recycle it properly, even if that means buying a drink inside the convenience store.
In all of these cases, these are only the recommended procedures as I have come to understand them. The worst case scenario for not following the protocol is a nasty look from a convenience store clerk or passer-by, so you're not really ricking much in any case. Still, if you want to follow the rules, these are the ones I know.
A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.