Disposing of Old Stuff in Tokyo
“That’s all your house is – a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.”
- George Carlin
It is true that we tend to accumulate stuff in our houses. And knowing how tiny houses are in Japan, this can become a problem. That is when disposing of unneeded items takes place.
We have an average 23 sq. meter apartment, and two old futon mattresses were taking up too much space. Since they are in not so good condition and too heavy to carry, we preferred to dispose of them via the sodai-gomi procedure.
Sodai-gomi (粗大ごみ) is any item of a size bigger than 30x30x30 cm and cannot be collected with average trash. Until 1991, there was no fee for sodai-gomi and people simply put the over-sized items on the designated days. That was known as the Big Garbage Day, when one could simply carry home any of those disposed items from the street.
These practices no longer exist and doing so would now be illegal. To have your sodai-gomi item(s) picked up by the garbage truck, you need to apply to your local ward. You will need to first call the phone number (may need to have a Japanese conversational skills) or apply over their websites. You will be noted how much money you need to pay. With our two futons we were charged ¥200 each.
To complete the payment, you will need to buy a special coupon in the form of a sticker, called sodai gomi shoriken (粗大ゴミ処理件). They are mostly sold in the convenience stores, but make sure to check with the ward for their recommended location.
Then you write your name or a given number on the sticker and place it on your item. Finally, just place the item with the sticker on the designated day. For convenience, we also wrapped the mattresses with the ropes, so that they are easy to be carried.
This is the easiest solution, but certain items, such as refrigerators or big TV screens, might cost you up to ¥6000. From the bright side, they won’t be thrown away polluting the environment, but put for recycle and regular flea markets that governments of wards organize.
Besides the public sodai-gomi option, there are private trash collectors. You can see them cruising the residential areas on small trucks. They might pay you for your items if they are in good conditions. In my experience, they can charge you for items to be disposed as well. They re-sell what they collect, but there are ethical issues regarding their operations, as some of them ship disposed items to less economically developed countries causing environment damages.
A better way to dispose is, of course, to recycle. You can try to give your unnecessary items to the second-hand store, but they might not pay you anything. And importantly, you cannot be sure what happens with the items they do not find worth selling.
There are even some stores that support animal shelters. For example, The Orange Thrifty in Kobe is one of them. You will need to pay the shipping fees, but you know that you contribute to a good cause. Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) is another one of them, for more information, read here. They can even accept your washing machine!
Finally, you can always give your items to those who may need them through Facebook groups (like this one) or public forums.
Japan is known as a very clean country. Let’s keep it clean.