Japan experienced severe environmental pollution involving serious health damage from the 1960s to the 1970s, the era of rapid industrialization. End-of-pipe technologies for large point sources, such as desulfurization and denitrification, have successfully contributed to diminishing such traditional environmental pollution problems. Can we continue to rely on such end-of-pipe approaches to solve all of the emerging environmental problems at the end of the huge energy and material flows of the industrialized economy?
The answer seems to be rather negative. Many of the present environmental issues have their roots in the basic structure of industrialized society, characterized by mass-production, mass-consumption and mass-disposal. There is a need to transform production and consumption behavior to more sustainable patterns. Recognition of this is clearly stated in recent Japanese national environmental policy documents such as the Basic Environment Plan. Based on this, a basic law for establishing the recycling-based society was enacted in 2000 concerning more sustainable material management. It seems that looking upstream is at least being built into environmental policies.
Such a paradigm shift in Japanese environmental policy may be interpreted differently in global and domestic contexts. Increasing attention is being paid to global environmental problems, and the concept of sustainable development is being spread. Recognition that the environment is finite as a source of resources supply and as a recipient of residuals is the most essential standpoint to discuss sustainable development. At the local level, on the other hand, limitation of the end-of-pipe approach is becoming evident (Moriguchi 1999). It has to be kept in mind that such recognition in Japan cannot occur unless the public is aware of urgent visible problems with municipal solid wastes (MSW)
and industrial wastes. Japan is suffering from the shortage of final disposal site capacity, but the development of new dumping sites is difficult because of potential negative impacts on the environment. The cost of dumping industrial solid wastes is high enough to call industry's attention to waste minimization. Incineration of solid waste has been effective in decreasing final disposal, but the recently revealed problem of dioxins from waste incineration is another force bringing people's attention back to the negative aspects of the mass-disposal society.
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