Photo/IllutrationWaste and debris continue to pile up at the Kibiji Clean Center, a garbage disposal facility in the flood-hit Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on July 17. (Takayuki Kakuno)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

For about a 2.3-kilometer stretch, mountains of waste blocked the view from National Road No. 486 in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on July 13. Within a few days, the column of garbage baking in the scorching heat had more than doubled in length to 4.8 km.

Broken household electric appliances, smashed furniture, sodden “tatami” mats and other waste continue to pile up on roadsides, school grounds and other areas of western Japan that were recently hit by torrential rain, flooding and landslides.

Local governments are at a loss on how to dispose of the ever-increasing volume of garbage that has worsened sanitary conditions and raised the risk of fires.

Although municipalities had been instructed to come up with waste disposal plans for disasters, less than a quarter of them did, and the ill-preparedness is now showing.

In Kurashiki, for example, the long line of waste on National Road No. 486, which runs parallel to a river with a collapsed embankment, was not supposed to have been dumped there in the first place.

“The smell from the waste sticks in my nose and makes me feel uncomfortable,” said a 50-year-old woman who lives near the national road in Kurashiki’s Mabicho district. “If the waste catches on fire at night, it could spread without anyone being aware.”

Immediately after the downpours let up, the Kurashiki city government notified residents to place their garbage in front of their houses or to carry it to nearby open spaces. The city also provided information on some designated garbage collection places.

However, cars of some residents were unusable because they were inundated in the floods. Other residents feared they would be stuck in traffic jams on their way to the collection areas. So they dumped the waste on the side of the national road.

Others apparently saw the garbage there and believed the roadside was an appropriate place to discard their waste. By July 13, the waste stretched more than 2 km along the road, according to the Kurashiki city government.

“The phenomenon that garbage invites garbage took place,” a high-ranking city official said.

Members of the Self-Defense Forces on July 17 were trying to put a dent into the column by crushing the waste with power shovels and hauling it away on trucks.

The Kurashiki city government accepts waste at more than 10 places, including school grounds. But as the cleanup continues in the city, the local government doubts that it alone can handle the mountains of waste that keep arising.

In the Mabicho district alone, the volume of garbage could reach 100,000 tons.

“We’re aiming to dispose of the waste within a year by obtaining cooperation from other municipalities,” said an official of the Okayama prefectural government’s recycling society promotion section.

In Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, the ground of a closed-down school was designated a temporary garbage collection site and began to accept waste on July 10. In less than three days, the site was filled up.

Other places were designated additional garbage collection sites, and many of them were already half-full by July 17.

The Mihara city government said it has no prospects on other places to accept the waste or how to dispose of it.

In Kure, also in Hiroshima Prefecture, two of the three incinerators at a waste-disposal facility stopped working after the water supply was cut off in the heavy rain on July 7. The third incinerator was undergoing regular maintenance work at the time.

After the water supply was recovered, one of the two incinerators was restarted on July 17.

The city government wants to use all three incinerators to dispose of the waste, but even operations at full capacity may not keep up with the accumulation.

“We can’t grasp how much garbage will come to us,” an official of the Kure city government said. “We have yet to decide when we will start the disposal.”

The Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 produced about 20 million tons of waste strewn over 13 prefectures, including houses that were swept away.

It took three years to dispose of the waste, except for in parts of Fukushima Prefecture where waste-removal work was hampered by fallout from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Two years were needed to get rid of about 3 million tons of waste produced when a series of powerful earthquakes rocked Kumamoto Prefecture in 2016.

In response to 2011 disaster in the Tohoku region, the Environment Ministry in 2014 worked out guidelines to deal with waste produced in disasters.

The guidelines called on local governments to work out waste disposal plans for natural disasters, including estimated volume of garbage produced, waste disposal capacities and candidate sites for temporary waste collection and storage.

However, only 24 percent of 1,741 municipalities throughout the country had worked out their plans as of the end of March 2017, up only 3 percentage points from a year earlier, according to a ministry survey.

Many local governments simply do not have access to the professional knowledge or resources needed to devise such plans.

In the three prefectures of Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime, 37 municipalities are now subject to the disaster rescue law because of the extent of damage from the torrential rain. But only five of those municipalities have waste disposal plans in place.

One of them is Kurashiki.

The city’s plan, compiled in February 2017, estimated that about 19,000 tons of waste would be produced in the Mabicho district in a disaster.

However, the city predicts the recent heavy rain will create 70,000 to 100,000 tons of waste in Mabicho, about 3.5 to five times larger than the estimate.