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Tokyo turning eco: Japan is fully embracing sustainability for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games is not only anticipated to become an exciting sports event, but also a great opportunity to shine light on global environmental issues. With the concept of “Be better, together - for the planet and the people" the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games sets the bar high as they aim to be the most sustainable Games to date, and it is just one step on the way of Japan's journey towards a more sustainable society. Read about the sustainable projects for Tokyo 2020, measures taken by the government and companies for a more eco-friendly society, and what you can keep in mind during your trip.

BY Karolina Höglind

tokyo station countdown clock
As the clock counts down towards the Tokyo 2020 Games, the efforts for sustainability ramps up

As the world turns its attention to Japan with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games just around the corner, the host country emphasizes the importance of taking action for the future of the planet. With the aim to be the most sustainable Games to date, Japan is starting to make a name for itself in the discussion about eco friendliness. The government has several measures to reach the country’s SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) and companies compete over more creative solutions to decrease plastic.

Efforts towards a sustainable Olympic & Paralympic, and for the future

With the concept and principle of “Be better, together – for the planet and the people” the Tokyo 2020 games has created a sustainability plan that is divided into five themes: Climate Change; Resource Management; Natural Environment and Biodiversity; Consideration of Human Rights, Labor and Fair Business Practices; and Involvement, Cooperation and Communications (Engagement).

Using the Tokyo 2020 Games as an opportunity, rather than an end-goal, to accelerate the increase in action taken towards the environmental goals, the Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, promises a commitment to long-term goals to be part of throughout the whole planning process. The Olympics and Paralympics thus becomes a vital stepping-stone for Japan to reach the United Nations SDG (Sustainable Development Goals). A few of the Japan long-term sustainability goals include 50% of the new cars sold to be zero-emission vehicles by 2030, and major Japanese cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Yokohama, to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.

Tokyo’s Governor, Yuriko Koike, wrote the following regarding the Tokyo 2020 and sustainability:
“As the host of the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, Tokyo is committed to delivering first-class athletic facilities and outstanding experiences to spectators. But, unlike many past Olympic hosts, the city is also committed to embedding long-term economic, social, and environmental needs into all planning processes.”

sustanability tokyo 2020

The sustainability concept “Be better, together”which has a significant role in the Tokyo 2020 Games, summed up in one image.

The legacy of the green Tokyo 2020 Games

As Tokyo strives to create a legacy by being the first Olympic and Paralympic hosts to put a lot of focus on the environment, there are several measures taken directly for the Tokyo 2020 Games, in the name of sustainability.

The Torch – One of the centerpieces of the Olympic Games is the torch that will carry the Olympic flame. Designed in the shape of the cherry blossom, a flower and symbol strongly connected to the image of Japan, the torch is made out of approximately 30% recycled aluminum originally used in the temporary housing units for the people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. As the torch makes its way through all 47 prefectures of Japan during the 121 days-long relay, the torch will create a path of hope for the people throughout Japan.

The Medals – In the spirit of sustainability, the highly desired gold, silver, and bronze medals, are all made from material recycled from mobile phones and other small electronic devices which have been donated by the public. Companies have set up donation stations where people can hand in the things they no longer need. With the incentive of having a part of your old phone turned into a medal for the games, organizers hope to inspire more people to recycle their old electronics.

The athlete’s dream is to receive an Olympic medal, which for Tokyo 2020 is made using metal from recycled electronics.

The Podiums – To encourage people to recycle their plastic waste, and take steps to prevent ocean plastic pollution, the podiums used for the award ceremonies will be made of recycled plastic. P&G, one of the Games’ main sponsors, is working together with the Tokyo 2020 Games on the sustainable podium project to recover plastic waste from the ocean, and to set up recycling stations for the Japanese public to contribute their plastic containers.

These are only a few of the measures taken. To find out more about the official sustainability projects check out the Tokyo 2020 Games page about sustainability.

Japan and its problems with plastic

Plastic waste is one of the main topics of discussion regarding climate change and environmental issues. Japan, being the second biggest producer of plastic waste, is increasingly taking actions towards plastic waste in the society.

Recycling is already a big part of everyday life in Japan. Many tourists react to the lack of trash cans around Tokyo, but as it is heavily encouraged to bring your trash home with you, the Tokyo streets often stay clean. Most people living in the city actively sort and recycle their trash at home, as the garbage disposal regulations in Tokyo are very strict. In fact, around 84% of all plastic waste in Japan is handed in to be recycled, something the country has received praise from the UN for. However, a large part of the sorted plastic ends up incinerated rather than actually getting recycled.

The three R’s; Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, are buzzwords often mentioned in the fight against plastic pollution. Tokyo Municipal Government, TMG, is working towards reducing the amount of plastic waste getting incinerated, while Japan as a whole is trying to shift the from recycling, to strategies more focused on reducing waste. A big target being the single-used plastic, which is more than often a part of Tokyoites daily lives, something anyone who’ve spent a significant time in Japan can vouch for. The target set by the Japanese government is to reduce plastic bag consumption by 25% before 2030. A new tax on plastic bags at retailers is likely, maybe as soon as 2020.

Getting a snack at the 24/7 available convenience store and buying take-out lunch are just a few examples of many Tokyoites daily habits which adds on to the society’s plastic bag consumption.

A town committed to battling climate change is Kamikatsu, a small town in the island Tokushima, southwest of Osaka. Kamikatsu declared that they aim to become a Zero Waste Town by 2020, for the sake of the children in the future being able to have access to clean air and water. If you are interested in learning more about sustainability in Japan, how about a visit to one of the most sustainable towns in Japan?

Companies creative sustainability solutions in Japan

To further move towards a more sustainable society, there is a need for companies need to follow suit.
Increasingly, shops around Japan are implementing measures to become more environmentally friendly such as t replacing regular plastic items with a recycled versions, or to an alternative wooden or paper options. The environmental awareness trend, and social pressure for more sustainable options, has also created an incentive for companies in Japan to come up with creative sustainable solutions.

The popular snack Kit-Kat recently upgraded from their old plastic bag to a biodegradable paper bag which also features a description of how to turn the paper packaging into an origami crane. P&G recently announced their first product, a bottle of dishwashing liquid, to be made using recycled plastic they retrieved from the ocean. Earlier this year, the big convenience store chain 7-Eleven changed the plastic wrapping of their rice balls to a plant-based, biodegradable packaging. In one year 7-Eleven sells around 2.27 billion rice balls. As eco-friendly values becomes a more vital part of companies strategies, more companies put a lot of effort into meeting the demand for their products in to have less negative impact on the environment.

eco tokyo station

Think of the nature and recycle your plastic bottles.

Recycle – Throw away your trash in the appropriate place and recycle your plastic bottles, cans, and glass bottles! For bottles and cans, you can usually throw it away next to vending machines. Most other trash you will likely have to bring back to the hotel to throw away, unless you are lucky to come across one of the few public trash cans. If you are unsure how to separate your trash at the hotel, ask the staff to be sure!

Refuse – Giving single-use plastic items such as wet tissues and plastic utensils, when buying something is a big part of the Japanese hospitality- Omotenashi. If you don’t need it, it is completely acceptable to say no thank you. This is kind to both the environments’ resources and it will save yourself the trouble of having to carry around extra plastic you don’t even need!

Refill – Vending machines are located around almost every corner in Tokyo, and as convenient as it is, did you know that you can also refill your water bottle with fresh and clean water in many places around the city? It’s both good for the environment to reduce the use of plastic bottles, aa well as it will save you money that you can spend on more exciting things during your trip. As it is important to keep hydrated in the Japanese summer heat, it is always good to know where you can refill your bottle nearby for free. Luckily, there is an app called MyMizu (Mizu meaning water in Japanese) which lets you locate your nearest refill station. Download the app and look for the closest refill location! As new locations are continually added, by the time the Games are upon us there will most likely be many places around Tokyo, and other cities, for you to find your clean and free drinking water! Furthermore, the new Japan National Stadium, which had its grand opening in December 2019, offers water refill stations at the venue so don’t forget to bring your bottle to the Games.

Be nice to the environment and your wallet. Stay hydrated during the Games by refilling your water bottle!

With the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan has the chance to make an impact on the world and set an example for the Games to come. With the support from local governments, businesses, and visitors alike, the Tokyo 2020 Games is set out to not only become a great sports event, but an important statement to the world to fight for a more sustainable future.

Karolina Höglind
Swedish 5 years living in Tokyo

Sweden born and bred Tokyoite. She started her journey to Japan as many others, through watching Sailor Moon on TV from a young age. Now her interest stretches out to culture, food and social issues. While studying at a Japanese university, she worked as an editor for a Tokyo-based culture magazine and as a radio host. She now spends her time as an office worker by day and Tokyo explorer by night.

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