One says cans, one says bottles, but they end up in the same place.

One big annoyance that many travelers in Japan notice is the lack of trash cans, even in big cities. It’s partially born out of Japan’s general aversion to snacking while walking (which means locals aren’t likely to generate much trash while out and about) and partially out of the fact that just about everyone, men and women, carry some sort of bag (which lets them carry home whatever trash they do generate), but it’s still an inconvenience.

On the other hand, though, recycling bins for cans and plastic bottles (called “pet bottles” in Japan) are all over the place. You’ll find one next to just about every vending machine, and also near the entrances/exits for convenience stores and supermarkets.

Here’s the weird thing, though: Often, the recycling bins have two openings, one labeled “cans” and the other “pet bottles.” But if you look inside, you’ll see that both openings empty into the exact same area of the bin.

It’s something that’s always puzzled us, so we decided to call up some of Japan’s largest drink makers to see if they could explain why. First, we dialed up Coca-Cola’s question hotline, and when the service rep came on the line, we asked “If the cans and pet bottles go into the same section of the recycling bin, why are there two openings?”

Coca-Cola’s answer?

“They’re designed that way to get people to be aware of the need to separate recyclables from other trash.”

Huh. So apparently it’s not that the people setting up the bins want us to keep cans and plastic bottles separate from each other, but for us all to remember that the bins aren’t for general trash (as a side note, residents of Japan do have to separate cans and plastics from each other when putting trash out on the curb for weekly residential trash pick-up). We guess having two different openings does kind of make it seem like a more official system, and something people should abide by.

Next we called up the soft drink division of Asahi, and they told us the exact same thing: The bins are designed with two openings so people will be aware of the need to separate recyclables. Finally, we got in touch with DyDo (makers of Pikachu apple peach drink and drinkable strawberry shortcake in a can), and they gave us one more reason for the two-opening bins.

“Recently, there are a lot of different types of cups used by coffee shops and convenience stores. Some people improperly throw those away in the recycling bins, and if the cups are too large, sometimes they get jammed and block the openings.

If there are two openings, even if one is blocked, people can still use the other one. The ‘cans’ and ‘plastic bottles’ markers are just to try to keep people from throwing other things away in the bins.”

So, at least in DyDo’s case, the two openings are there so in case someone tries to cram their non-recyclable cup into the bin, there’s still one opening for everyone who’s following the rules. On the one hand, such inconsiderate behavior is disappointing, but it’s nice that DyDo still gives the rest of us a way to be kind to the environment even if someone else has been a jerk, and that’s smart design that we’ll drink to.

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