Disaster Waste: Far-Reaching Cooperation Needed to Ensure Prompt Disposal

The large amount of disaster waste generated by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake is hampering recovery efforts. Local governments and private companies across Japan should cooperate in various ways to remove and dispose of the waste as soon as possible, to promote the restoration of people’s lives in the disaster-hit areas.

A month after the massive earthquake, pillars and walls of collapsed houses and broken furniture and other household goods still lie scattered throughout affected areas in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Disaster waste blocks roads and hinders vehicular traffic, which tends to delay such efforts as the delivery of materials necessary for restoration work. If left unattended for a long time, the waste could result in foul odors and infestations of pests, creating sanitation problems. There are also concerns that fires may start in the kerosene tanks of heating stoves.

Experts estimate that the earthquake generated more than 800,000 tons of disaster waste in Ishikawa Prefecture, 80% of which is believed to be in the northern part of the Noto Peninsula. In Suzu, the equivalent of 64 years’ worth of that city’s regular waste is said to have been generated.

Amounts of this scale cannot be handled by a single municipality. It is essential for the central and prefectural governments to take the lead in setting up temporary sites for storing collected waste, and in coordinating among municipalities regarding the subsequent disposal of that waste.

The cities of Suzu and Wajima are particularly behind in setting up temporary waste storage sites.

In its guidelines for disaster waste management, the Environment Ministry requires municipalities to pick temporary waste storage sites during ordinary times. Suzu, for example, had already chosen candidate sites. But roads near those sites were distorted by the quake, a situation that did not allow large amounts of waste to be brought in.

Another reason given for the delay in handling disaster waste is that the owners of some affected houses have left the area, making it difficult to obtain their consent for the waste’s removal.

First and foremost, all possible measures to secure routes to remove waste must be implemented. Municipal officials who have experience in waste management from past disasters have been dispatched to the affected areas. These officials should utilize their experience and knowledge to find a way out of the situation.

Disaster-affected areas need more than financial contributions and the dispatch of human resources. Municipalities outside the stricken areas can also provide valuable support by accepting and dealing with disaster waste. It is important to expand such far-reaching cooperation.

The disposal of disaster waste is an issue not only in the affected areas of the Noto region, but throughout the nation. Many local governments have not been able to secure temporary waste storage sites they need.

If a huge earthquake hits an urban area in the future, an enormous amount of waste will be generated. It is important for each local government to formulate a waste management plan or review their existing one.

It will also be important to promote the increased earthquake resistance of buildings, to reduce the number of collapsed houses and thereby decrease the amount of disaster waste. We never know when or where a disaster will strike. It is important to be prepared.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 5, 2024)