Recycling: Re-imagining Our Waste Culture


recycling: re-imagining our waste culture

Aaron Pylinski | Community Writer
It’s no secret there is a large amount of waste produced on base. Go through any of the housing areas before a trash collection day, and you’ll see everything from slightly used baby beds to like-new grill tools. However, it is a step up from the old days on base when your PCS orders got you a free ticket to dispose of anything you didn’t want to take back to the states with you by having it tossed in the landfill.

Luckily for us, those days are long gone. There is no more landfill, and we now have a relationship with outside vendors to take our waste and turn it into revenue. We’re making progress on how we handle our refuse, but we’ve still got a long road ahead of us before we’re making less waste and more money for the station.

Although the road may be long, it’s not fraught with peril and danger. Instead, the road is more of a map that outlines a shift in our waste culture and how we embrace the idea of reducing, reusing, and recycling.

With our powers combined, we can reduce the amount of waste we produce and commit to making MCAS Iwakuni a better place for ourselves, our neighbors both on and off station, and future generations to come. Something Shaleen Mollerstuen from Facilities Environmental takes to heart, “We have a responsibility here in Japan to be good stewards of our resources.”

On station, the recycling program is a revenue-generating activity. The Qualified Recycling Program (QRP) works with vendors from in the local area and all around Japan that buy our recyclables. By taking all of our shredded paper and sorting and removing our recycled waste, the QRP generates up to $180,000 annually that goes directly back into MCAS Iwakuni.

An approval process for the funds generated by QRP goes through a committee which allocates to separate entities on station including MCCS. A portion of the funds goes to maintenance for the QRP program. After that, the committee allocates for procurement such as new equipment. Then, 50% of what is left goes to energy conservation projects. Then, the QRP committee decides on how much goes to installation under criteria like: pollution abatement, composting, alternative fuel vehicle infrastructure support or vehicle conversion, energy conservation, and occupational health and safety. Once those funds are spoken for, what is left is voted on for potential MCCS projects that we may have available.

Though it is always good to generate money, there are always better ways to streamline recycling operations. MCCS is working with the station recycling to develop a phased approach to improving the way we handle waste. Before taking a look at possible ways forward, let’s talk a little about where we are now.

"We have a responsibility here in Japan to be good stewards of our resources."

Separating Your Household Garbage

This chart will provide an easy reference for those living on base to get you familiar with how recycling works off base.

For those of you already living off base, the collection day for each category varies depending on your neighborhood. Please consult the Housing Office at 253-5772 if you are not sure of your collection days.

Categories 1-6 require designated bags with red or green print. Please print your name on these bags. Each neighborhood has specially designated locations for garbage pick-up. Garbage should be deposited at these locations from 6-8 AM.

Check with Housing for these locations.

1. Combustibles go out twice a week. Combustibles include any combustible garbage that cannot be recycled.

Kitchen Scraps
Sanitary Items
Paper containers (cup noodles, ice cream, soap boxes, etc,)
Garden Waste (leaves, plant trimmings)
Desiccants (please not that desiccants containing coal must be places with nondisposable trash)

3. Plastics go out once a week. Plastic bottles marked with the PET symbol and styrofoam food trays need to be taken to specific stores [see list below]. Please be sure to remove the caps and labels and rinse the bottles.

Bags & containers
Plastic or nylon bags
Food/Candy wrappers
Styrofoam trays
Plastic containers (seasoning containers, cooking oil, shampoo, cosmetics, toothpaste, etc.)

4. Metal and Fragmental Items go out once every four weeks. Combustibles include any combustible garbage that cannot be recycled.

Aluminum Foil/Containers
Metal Coolingware
Small Electrical Appliances (lamps, pencil sharpeners)
Metal Items (stationary items, scales, scissors, knives, cameras)
Other Items (clocks, calculators, CDs, paint cans, pens)

5. Bottles go out once every four weeks. Please remove caps and rinse the bottles before recycling.

Drink Bottles
Food Containers (jam, dressing, pepper, etc.)

6. Cans go out once every four weeks. Do not place cans inside of other cans. Aluminum cans should be taken out with Recyclable items, and large cooking oil cans should be taken out with Metal & Fragmental wastes.

Drink Cans
Food Cans (cans for seaweed, snacks)
Gas Cartridges and Spray Cans (Be sure these cans are completely empty and spray cans are punctured)

7. Recyclables go out once every four weeks. In case of rain, place these items in plastic bags, or wait for the next collection day.

For newspaper, magazines, paper cartons, and cardboard, make sure all items are clean and flat and bind them together with designated paper twine. Newspapers should be kept with newspapers, magazines with magazines, and so on.

Cloth should be clean and put in clear plastic bags.

Aluminum cans should be cleaned and put in plastic bags.

Electical cords should be bundled together.

Cooking Oils should be put in plastic bottles that don't leak.

8. Nondisposable Items can be taken out with Ceramics, Plastics, Metal, Bottles, or Cans. Nondisposable items should be placed in transparent bags.

Video & Cassette tapes
Desiccants containing Coal
Gas Cartridges (lighters, spray cans, gas lighters)
Fluorescent Lights (Fluorescent lights longer than 1.2m cannot be collected.)

9. Call the Housing Office for directions on the disposal of Large Items. Large items are generally items that don't fit into any of the designated bags 

If the item isn't broken, consider donating it or selling it before disposing of it.

10. Excess Wastes need to be collected or taken directly to disposal facilities. Contact the Housing Office for more information. 

Excess wastes are generally large amounts of yard trimmings or the results of renovation or moving.

11. It is the owner's responsiblity to dispose of a pet Carcass. 

The carcass should be taken to the incinerator, or a disposal facility can be arranged come collect the carcass. For other carcasses, the owner of the property must take responsibility.


Plastic bottles marked with the PET symbol and styrofoam food trays need to be taken to the following stores. Make sure all bottles are clean and that the caps and labels have been removed.

All Chuo Foods , All Marukyu, The Big (Iwakuni), Fuji Grand (Iwakuni), Izumi (Minami Iwakuni), Max Value (Minami Iwakuni), Manso (Minami Iwakuni), Max Value (Tsuzu), Pikurosu (Tsuzu), Fuji (Minami Iwakuni), Fresta Store (Muronoki), Aruk (All), Niku no Kobeya (Iwakuni)

The City Hall & Branch office will only accept PET bottles, not styrofoam trays.

Large Items

Contact the Housing Office in order to have the city authorized disposal trader collect the items. Please note that some household appliances like TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, and computers cannot be collected. Please contact the store that you purchased these items from to have the items collected.

Please use the following procedure when attempting to discard of other large-size items:

1. Call the Housing Office at 253-5772. The Housing Office is open Monday thru Friday between 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Please notify them 7 days prior to the collection day.

2. The authorized disposal trader will need to be notified. Please be prepared to share your name, address, phone number, name of the item, and the collection day.

3.Collection Stickers must be purchased. Two types of

stickers can be purchased at designated stores.

4. Place the sticker with the appointed number and name on the item to be collected.

5. Take the item out to the place designated by the Housing Office on the agreed upon collection day.

MCX Recycling Merchandise:

Japanese recycling bags

Red labels for combustibles, green labels for all other recyclables.

Find these at all Marine Mart locations.

Small, medium & large:

Housing areas separate their waste into two categories: combustible and non-combustible. There is no source separating happening at the household level, all of that happens through the QRP. Host nation workers in their blue garbage trucks separate the non-combustibles and take them to the recycling facility to be cleaned and sold to a vendor out in town.

In the barracks there is no real infrastructure in place to facilitate recycling, like family housing, QRP handles all of the separating and cleaning of non-combustibles. Though there is separating in most offices on station, this also falls under QRP just like housing and the barracks.

Atago Hills has a more robust program with good intentions. Of all the station entities that recycle, Atago is the most progressive with a 4-category separation process. Paper shredding is a big commodity for the QRP as well, where we sell our shredded paper to an off-base vendor, and they then turn it into paper pulp.

People living off station have to recycle according to countrywide 30-year mandated procedures for recycling. Though it is incredibly in-depth, it is fairly easy to follow once the system is understood. The bottom line is that for those of us living off station the recycling process starts at the sorting stage. We sort our waste at home and put it out according to the different types of recycling items, everything from food waste to cardboard.

“We do have several residents living off station and if they can do it, why not have our residents on base do it as well?” said Mollerstuen.

We can implement a better way forward as long as there is the proper level of support, from infrastructure to education.

A potential course of action for moving forward is full separation at the source, meaning every household, office and barracks resident will be sorting and cleaning their own waste. This may sound like much work at the onset, but with the right facilities in place and education, these goals can be met, and we can be more like our neighbors off station when it comes to how we process our trash and recyclables. What we do on station is also echoed in our interface with the local populace.

A great example of our stewardship in the realm of waste management is the Single Marine Program’s Volunteer Days of Service. This includes cleaning up multiple local beaches like Yuu Beach and beaches on Oshima Island. It also includes clean up around the Kintai Bridge, a focal point of Iwakuni and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This culminates in a volunteer ceremony and barbecue on April 20 at Penny Lake where those who participate are recognized for their service to the community and the planet.

These service days are important when it comes to reinforcing the idea that too much waste is a problem and that we are active in being a part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem.

Earth Day is April 22, and it’s a great time to re-evaluate our recycling culture and do our part to contribute to the ever changing world in which we live. Every little bit helps, from reducing the amount of waste we produce, reusing certain items to keep them out of landfills, or recycling those things that can be recycled.

This isn’t an uphill battle. This is a chance to embrace a change that will benefit us all. Like all change, nothing will happen over night, and there will be growing pains. However, those things that are worth doing should be done right, and recycling is one of them.