With JICA support Okinawa NGO talks trash in the Pacific

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
October 25, 2015
Naha, Okinawa, Japan—Hiroshi Kogachi has been talking trash with nearly everyone he meets for over 30 years. Now he and the organization he helped to found have been talking trash internationally, including in Pacific Island countries
Kogachi is the President of Okinawa Citizen's Recycling Movement (OCRM), a non-governmental organization founded in 1983 that is dedicated to educating the people of Okinawa about the benefits of recycling both for the people and for the environment.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency decided that OCRM's program could be useful and effective in countries other than just Japan and has funded OCRM consultation visits to help other countries to start their own recycling programs.

Kogachi and his group have been recognized by Japan's Central Government. In 2003, Kogachi gave a presentation to all of the Pacific Island leaders in attendance at the Pacific Area Leader's Meeting.
"The people used to throw to dump their trash in the streets in Naha," Kogachi said during a presentation to Pacific journalists in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. He displayed a photo that he said was taken in the early 1990's of a mountain of trash of all types dumped outside an apartment building. He pointed out a sign that was nearly buried in the mountain of trash and said that the Japanese characters on the sign warned people that illegal dumping would result in a fine. "They just didn't care," he said.
The problem was dramatic, not only because of the awful smell but because of the health risks the mounds of trash represented for the people of Naha. The illegal dumps attracted rats, feral dogs and cats, cock roaches and other scavengers who came for a free meal.
The problem of waste removal and where Naha's waste should be put became a politically charged issue. No one wanted a garbage landfill in their own backyard. The politics surrounding the problem were so intense that one of Naha's mayors was forced to resign over his handling of it.
It was in that environment that OCRM made a proposal to the Naha government for a recycling program to be operated in Naha but the government did not have the political will to make it happen. They rejected OCRM's multiple proposals for what Kogachi said were purely political reasons.
He told the journalists that OCRM tried at least 10 times to get the government to take up a recycling program. They met face to face with the mayor who seemed to be interested but ultimately he rejected the proposal as well. Naha government representatives told OCRM that it would take at least 10 years to change public thinking. They rejected the idea as hopeless.
"It didn't make any sense," Kogachi lamented. "People were throwing away items that could make them money. He said that Naha's waste problem would not have been nearly so large if only the things that truly could not be used were thrown away."
"So we decided that we would make action by ourselves," he said. "We thought that if the city isn't going to do it we should just do it ourselves."
OCRM went on a public information campaign and built a recycling program slowly from the ground up, piece by painstaking piece. They successfully ran the program for five years. Kogachi said at the peak of the operation OCRM was collecting and selling three tons of recyclable materials to wholesalers in Okinawa.
They did it with no government funding. They created the whole program through fund raisers and corporate donations. He said that the Coca Cola Company contributed to bottle recycling efforts. Milk companies helped to fund the recycling efforts for the types of containers their product was packaged in. Newspaper companies funded recycling efforts for used newspapers.
After five years, the municipality finally got on board and took over the operation on the program. For OCRM it was fortuitous timing. About a year later the bottom fell out of the recyclables market. Kogachi said that OCRM could not have afforded to continue running the program but the government had the resources to weather the financial storm and the recycling program still exists today.
OCRM, still a non-governmental organization now focuses its efforts on promotion of recycling and on education campaigns. He said that OCRM has helped to encourage local businesses to think outside of the box in terms of recycling. OCRM helped to organize a way to recycle even food waste from hotels and restaurants. The food waste is being used as animal feed.
OCRM recently brought three private salvage business owners to Okinawa to Japan to visit Takury Metal. The employees of the company taught the business owners how to identify different types of recyclable metals and how to use simple tools to separate them from car parts, cell phones, circuit boards and other waste products for sale to wholesalers.
OCRM also helped to coordinate site visits at the Pacific business owners' places of business in the islands.
Kogachi says that it might not be easy to start a recycling operation but he counsels people in underserved countries to take a step, and then another, and another. "Just do something. Don't wait for someone to do it for you," he said.

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