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Garbage is Getting a Makeover



Tons of waste are trucked here daily to a large industrial building. What can’t be recycled is burned and filtered for toxins. The ash is turned into building material, and the heat is converted into electricity — enough to power 55,000 homes.

The process saves landfill space. Air pollution is minimal. The 4-year-old firm, Tokyo Waterfront Recycle Power Co., will turn its first profit this year, said President Ikuo Onaka. But, he contends, the rewards aren’t purely financial.

“We’re making a social contribution,” said Onaka, whose business is one of nine firms operating on Tokyo’s waterfront to reuse the city’s garbage instead of burying it.

These private-sector companies are part of a very public push by Tokyo’s metropolitan government to turn this dense urban area, home to 13 million people, into the world’s most eco-friendly mega-city.

In addition to reducing solid waste, Tokyo over the last few years has unveiled a slew of environmentally conscious initiatives. Those include toughened environmental building standards, cash incentives for residents to install solar panels, and a plan for greening the city, including planting half a million trees and converting a 217-acre landfill in Tokyo Bay into a wooded “sea forest” park.

Last month Tokyo kicked off its most ambitious effort yet: a mandatory program for 1,400 of the area’s factories and office buildings to cut their carbon emissions 25% from 2000 levels by the end of 2020. The plan includes a carbon cap-and-trade system, the first ever attempted by a metropolitan area. The mechanism sets limits on emissions and requires those who exceed their quotas to buy pollution rights from those who are under their caps.

Tokyo’s strategy is reminiscent of California’s. The state’s landmark legislation, known as AB 32, requires polluters to curb their emissions significantly over the next decade. But while opponents, including large oil refiners, are bankrolling a campaign to stall that effort in the Golden State, Tokyo is hitting the gas.

More than half the world’s population now resides in cities. Metropolitan Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures have about as many people as the entire state of California. The way such teeming places respond to climate change will largely determine whether global warming can be slowed.

Masahiro Takeda, manager of sustainability for Mori Building Co., one of Tokyo’s largest commercial developers, said demand is rising for buildings that save energy and lower tenants’ operating costs. Large-scale recycling, greenery, rainwater reuse and waste heat recapture have become standard features in Mori developments.

At Roppongi Hills, a major shopping and office complex built by Mori in the heart of Tokyo, more than one-quarter of the 21-acre site is covered with trees and shrubs — including a rooftop rice paddy. The plants absorb carbon dioxide and lower roof temperatures, which in turn cuts heating and cooling bills.

Plants are essential in combating the so-called heat-island effect. Heat-trapping concrete and asphalt have raised Tokyo’s temperature by about 3 degrees Celsius over the last century, according to the government. Green roofs, along with tree planting and community gardens, are a way to build community support to fight climate change.

Tokyo rooftops are also sprouting solar panels. To spur adoption of photovoltaics, the metropolitan government offers its homeowners a subsidy of 100,000 yen (about $1,070) per kilowatt. (A typical system is about four kilowatts.) That comes on top of the federal subsidy of 70,000 yen (about $750) per kilowatt. The metropolitan government is also offering solar incentives to businesses.

Meanwhile, garbage is getting an afterlife. Tough recycling laws over the years have produced results such as a 99% reuse rate for asphalt and concrete and 72% for paper. What isn’t recovered is incinerated and the residue buried. But with landfill space in short supply, the metropolitan government in 2006 launched an initiative, Tokyo Super Eco Town, to get recycling to the next level.

Tokyo is well ahead of other major cities on many environmental issues. But environmentalists are particularly enthusiastic about its willingness to push ahead with a cap-and-trade program amid a sluggish global economy.

Source : BrandXDaily

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