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EDITORIAL | Make Removing Post-Earthquake Waste a National Priority

While the cleanup after the Great East Japan Earthquake took 3 years, its lessons in removing waste and debris and recycling can help the Noto cleanup now.



Disaster waste is delivered to a temporary storage area in Suzu City, Ishikawa Prefecture. February 6, 2024 (©Kyodo)

The Noto Peninsula Earthquake in Ishikawa Prefecture has generated an estimated 2.47 million tons of debris and other waste. This amount is roughly equivalent to the total volume of waste typically produced in the prefecture over seven years. 

Clearly, reconstruction cannot proceed while such an enormous amount of waste remains. However, its speedy removal requires a wide-area removal framework encompassing Ishikawa as well as other prefectures. In response, the central government should apply lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake. That experience and lessons from other disasters can help guide how to address the Noto Peninsula waste removal challenge. 

Local governments nationwide should be encouraged to cooperate actively with this effort.

Estimates suggest that more than 50,000 structures in Ishikawa Prefecture were totally or partially destroyed in the earthquake's aftermath. Ishikawa Prefecture has also estimated the volume of disaster waste it expects to be produced if around 22,000 of these buildings are actually demolished. 

Suzu and Wajima cities, along with two other towns, account for approximately 60% of the disaster waste (roughly 1.51 million tons). That would be the equivalent of the total volume of waste normally produced in these towns over 59 years. 

Disaster waste piles up at a temporary storage site in Nanao City, Ishikawa Prefecture. January 22, 2024 (©Kyodo)

Past Experience

Even in the aftermath of previous large-scale disasters, waste disposal has been a major obstacle to reconstruction. For example, it took around three years to clean up after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Excluding Fukushima Prefecture, the earthquake generated around 20 million tons of waste. (Fukushima Prefecture was a special case because of the nuclear reactor waste.) 

Likewise, it took around two years to dispose of the roughly 3.11 million tons of waste left by the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake.

In the case of the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, waste removal is expected to be complicated by geographical conditions. There are few main roads on the Noto Peninsula. Meanwhile, the land routes have also been seriously damaged by problems like sinkholes and surface cracks. It will take quite some time for them to be repaired. 

Volunteers sort disaster waste from damaged houses in Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture, on February 10. (©Kyodo)

Learning from Miyagi's Recycling Effort

Ishikawa Prefecture plans to start demolishing collapsed buildings from March. It also hopes to complete the removal of debris by the end of FY2025. Debris, including furniture and other disaster waste, will be transported to temporary storage sites set up in every city and town in the area. But before that can happen, land routes to these sites must be quickly secured. 

The feasibility of using sea transport to take disaster waste from comparatively remote areas like Oku-Noto to other prefectures is also being considered. Hopefully, local governments with such a capacity will step up to help. Then the central government should work to smooth arrangements. 

It is also important that disaster waste be recycled to the greatest possible degree. Here, we have the example set by Higashi Matsushima City in Miyagi Prefecture. 

After the Great East Japan Earthquake, that city undertook thorough separation and recycling efforts. It processed waste into building materials, wood chips, and so on. In some cases, it achieved a reuse rate of over 90%. We can learn a lot from such successes in the past. 

A temporary disaster waste storage site was also set up in Suzu City, Ishikawa Prefecture on February 1. (February 4) (©Sankei by Takumi Kamoshida)

Caring for the Memories

At the same time, all involved should remain sensitive to the complex feelings of local residents towards their belongings. Their memories are attached to the furniture and other items to be disposed of.  

Expectations are high for volunteers who can handle the disposal of these belongings. Beyond the volunteers, the national and prefectural governments should work together to ensure a framework for disposal is in place as soon as possible. Finally, they should proceed with such disposal based on public-private cooperation. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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