Tokyo Goal: Be The Greenest

April 23, 2010|Marla Dickerson

On a man-made island in Tokyo Bay, garbage is getting a makeover.

Tons of waste are trucked here daily to a large industrial building. What can’t be recycled is burned and filtered for toxins. The ash is turned into building material, and the heat is converted into electricity — enough to power 55,000 homes.

The process saves landfill space. Air pollution is minimal. The 4-year-old firm, Tokyo Waterfront Recycle Power Co., will turn its first profit this year, said President Ikuo Onaka. But, he contends, the rewards aren’t purely financial.

“We’re making a social contribution,” said Onaka, whose business is one of nine firms operating on Tokyo’s waterfront to reuse the city’s garbage instead of burying it.

These private-sector companies are part of a very public push by Tokyo’s metropolitan government to turn this dense urban area, home to 13 million people, into the world’s most eco-friendly mega-city.

In addition to reducing solid waste, Tokyo over the last few years has unveiled a slew of environmentally conscious initiatives. Those include toughened environmental building standards, cash incentives for residents to install solar panels, and a plan for greening the city, including planting half a million trees and converting a 217-acre landfill in Tokyo Bay into a wooded “sea forest” park.

This month Tokyo kicked off its most ambitious effort yet: a mandatory program for 1,400 of the area’s factories and office buildings to cut their carbon emissions 25% from 2000 levels by the end of 2020. The plan includes a carbon cap-and-trade system, the first ever attempted by a metropolitan area. The mechanism sets limits on emissions and requires those who exceed their quotas to buy pollution rights from those who are under their caps.

Tokyo’s strategy is reminiscent of California’s. The state’s landmark legislation known as AB 32 requires polluters to curb their emissions significantly over the next decade. But while opponents, including large oil refiners, are bankrolling a campaign to stall that effort in the Golden State, Tokyo is hitting the gas.

More than half the world’s population now resides in cities. Metropolitan Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures have about as many people as the entire state of California. The way such teeming places respond to climate change will largely determine whether global warming can be slowed.

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