Saturday, February 12, 2011

On Design--Recycling in McDonald's

This is where you throw away trash and put your tray at a McDonald's in Japan.  I have never seen a trash bin like this in the US, and I'd love to know--why not?! 

Paper trash on the left,...

...plastic on the right. 

There's even a drain (see it? above the plastic side in the top photo?) to dump out left-over drinks before throwing out your cup (paper), lid (plastic), and straw (plastic).  This became automatic for me almost immediately--and it drives me absolutely bonkers when I go home not to be able to recycle stuff in McDonald's... 

The no-smoking sticker on the door of the trash bin reminds me of a story...

A very dear Somebody, who shall remain nameless, was eating in a McDonald's during a first or second trip to Japan.  Small McDonald's with seating on different floors of an urban building often designate one of the floors smoking, and another non-smoking.  Somebody happened to be sitting on a smoking floor, so there were ashtrays on the tables and a stack of extra ashtrays on top of the garbage bin just behind the drink drain.  There was also a special drain/bin to dump ashtrays in.  It was labeled with a helpful diagram showing an ashtray with cigarette butts in it being put into the hole for such waste.  Only Somebody thought it was a drawing of French Fries...and, mystified, began obediently stuffing French Fries down the hole.  At that point another customer walked up to throw away his trash and empty his ashtray.  In that instant, Somebody realized that the diagram was of cigarettes going down the hole, not Fries...and locked eyes briefly with the customer behind her, French Fry held aloft, ready to be shoved down what she now knew to be the cigarette disposal hole.

"Gomen nasai!!"  What else can you do but say "I'm sorry!" and make an attempt to rectify the situation by throwing away the rest of your trash, carefully sorting it out, and leaving as quickly as possible!


  1. My guess is that it's an issue of systemic practice. Recycling (or general trash separation) in the U.S. is, I believe, a local issue. Depending on where you live, you might have no recycling and separation at all (simply sending all waste/garbage to the same place), while in other places, you might be required to sort by material, size, etc. I know that trash separation in Japan can vary depending on the local rules (I'm still not sure if I find it neat or annoying that each city has its own trash bags!).

    However, it seems to me like there are still some national standards in Japan, like separating plastic and paper waste, while no such national (perhaps legal)standards exist in the U.S. So then there's the jump to trash practices of large national/multi-national corporations like McDonald's or Walmart. In order to get trash out in Japan, McDonald's must have to follow some sort of rules. In the U.S., even in places where locals are required to follow more complex rules of separation, it seems like places like McDonald's are not necessarily required to follow such rules. I don't even know where the nearest McDoanld's is, but I do have a friend who works with large-scale green waste management--I'll see if he happens to know more.

    I also have a return question: What does フタ mean? It seems to indicate a plastic lid, but I can't find a specific definition for the word in my standard online dictionary. I'm wondering if this might be a newer world/have to do with something scientific relating to plastic. 教えてください!

  2. Hi, Chris! フタ means just "lid"--I use it to refer to any kind of lid (for pots or cups or whatever). It's the only word I've heard used for lid--and it's the word I always see in recipes.

    You're right--trash rules vary from city to city! We have to separate plastic from household garbage, but that started in Yokohama about 7 years ago (in 2004, just a year after we moved here...I well remember all the moms standing around downstairs moaning about it, and about how much plastic trash there was, and why couldn't they pick it up twice a week instead of only once, and did this or that thing go in the plastic trash or not, and how rinsing out before throwing out did other moms do, especially natto styrofoam...). My in-laws down in Ito city, however, don't separate *anything*. I wonder whether McDonald's started the trash separation across the board to be in step with the big population centers where most of their stores are? I'd love to hear what your friend thinks!

  3. Hi there!

    I hope you're doing well! My name is Alli and I run a blog called Throwaway Nation, all about single use disposables ( and the American addiction to them. A friend of mine just sent me a link to your blog, and I was wondering if you'd mind if I included one of your pictures on my blog (with a photo credit and a link to yours, of course!). I like the first one (with all the bins) the best.


    (I looked around your site for an email address or contact form, but couldn't find one. If you'd like, I can be reached by email at