Recycling rackets poised to make a killing at New Year’s

December 24th, 2010 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

With the danshari fad peaking, the custom of New Years housecleaning (osoji) becomes more urgent, which could mean bigger piles of garbage at the curb and more calls to local government offices for “oversized refuse” (sodaigomi) pickups. It should also mean a higher than usual spike in business for independent haikibutsu shori (waste disposal) companies, and it seems the authorities are keeping an eye on the situation. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, over the past several months police in four prefectures have arrested representatives of 13 waste disposal companies for collecting refuse without the proper licenses.

Bring out your dead!

These companies are rackets. They slowly patrol residential areas in small pickup trucks equipped with loudspeaker systems, offering to cart away broken or unused household appliances. What often happens is that someone flags down the truck and says he has some things he wishes to dispose of. The driver picks up the items and places them in the back of the truck and then demands a fee that is much higher than the owner of the items expected; if, in fact, he expected to pay a fee at all. Sometimes, the recorded announcements vaguely imply that there is no charge, though they are careful not to actually use the word “muryo” (free). This practice is known as “sakizumi,” or “pre-loading,” meaning the removal fee is quoted after the item is put on the truck. According to police, the fee is sometimes as much as ¥30,000 or even ¥50,000 per item. Of course, the person could simply refuse to pay and remove the item from the back of the truck, but that might be very difficult if the item is a washing machine or some other heavy appliance. In any case, most of these victims are embarrassed and intimidated (the drivers are often described as being rough in appearance and manner) and just pay. The companies seem to purposely target older residents. (It should be pointed out that not all recycling companies that patrol neighborhoods in small trucks are rackets, but it should also be pointed out that few of them, despite what they say in their flyers, will take your stuff for free.)

Though this method is clearly unethical it is not, by itself, illegal, which is why the police have to stretch other laws having to do with licensing or swindling in order to cite these companies. As it stands, the disposal of appliances can be a tricky matter for consumers. Since the recycling law went into effect almost ten years ago, large appliances, specifically refrigerators, air conditioners, computers, television sets, washing machines and now dryers, have to be processed through manufacturers, which charge fees for receiving them. Usually, the processing is done as a trade-in: When you buy a new appliance, you bring the old one in to the retailer and, depending on the retailer, the recycling fee is added to the price of the new appliance, regardless of whether or not the two items are made by the same manufacturer. These fees range from about ¥1,700 for TVs to almost ¥5,000 for refrigerators. If you are not in the market for a new appliance and just want to get rid of your old one, you need to bring the item in to the specific manufacturer yourself and pay the company the proper recycling fee.

If you don’t want to do that, then you can contact a licensed waste disposal company that will do it for you and charge accordingly, at least twice as much as the basic recycling fee. For smaller appliances, like coffee makers, which most municipal garbage collectors will not take, you have to call your local government office and arrange for a pickup. In that case, they usually tell you how much it will cost to dispose of the item. To pay, you buy the correct number of priced labels at your nearest convenience store and affix them, with your signature or seal, to the item. Then you leave the item(s) at a designated pickup point on a designated day. These procedures, which are supposed to guarantee that electronic devices are properly recycled and/or safely disposed of, are apparently still too troublesome or expensive for many people. That’s why you still see a lot of broken appliances sitting forlornly on roadsides throughout Japan.

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2 Responses

  1. I work at home, and these trucks drive me nuts sometimes, with as many as four or five companies making the rounds, several times each on the weekends, starting promptly at 8 a.m. One way of curbing the sound pollution is to get the cops to cite them for violating a Tokyo ordinance which restricts such trucks to roads of more than X meters in width. Many of the side roads in my Okachimachi/Torigoe neighborhood should be off-limits to them. But with one of the highest concentrations of residents over 80 in the city, the “haihin kaishusha” remain a neighborhood scourge in this area.

  2. Oh dear, I’d often wondered about those little trucks that circle the neighbourhood and even considered approaching them to get rid of my old stuff. But after reading this post, I’ve decided to give it a miss. I think that garbage disposal is going to be a boom trade in the years to come, along with any business that involves doing the kind of work that nobody else wants to do (elder care, etc).

    Incidentally, my Sanyo fully automatic “fuzzy logic” washing machine is now 18 years old and still going strong, despite the daily use, the heavy loads, and the fact that it officially resides on my verandah! I’ve never had any problems with it. Although in the rainy season I wistfully consider buying one of those washer-dryers, I could never consider giving up my beloved Sanyo. It’s been with me longer than almost anybody in my life!

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