“They’ve taken their trash cans to the next level.”

Japan’s highway rest stops, or “parking areas” as they’re officially called, are practically tourism attractions in their own right. Their food courts and souvenir shops often serve as showcases for regional cuisine and handicrafts, and even if you’re not eating or shopping, the novelty of pristinely clean rest stop bathrooms is a memorable and moving sight if you’re from a country with lower baseline cleanliness levels.

And our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma recently found yet another thing to be impressed by while driving through Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu, when he stopped at the northbound Kiyama Parking Area in the town of Kiyama, Saga Prefecture. Since it was after 11 p.m. when he pulled in, the restaurants and souvenir shops were closed, so he just made a quick pit stop in the men’s room and grabbed a canned coffee from the 7-Eleven. But as he was walking back to his car, he passed by a couple going in the opposite direction and caught a strange snippet of their conversation.

“They’ve taken their trash cans to the next level.”

Intrigued, Masanuki decided to see what made them special, so he followed the sign…

…and came to this bank of trash cans.

Rather than free-standing cans taking up space in the middle of the walkway, they were set flush into the building. It looked kind of nice, he guessed, but he wasn’t sure he’d call the setup “next level”…at least, not until he got closer, and this happened.

Each one of the receptacles (Japan has different ones for regular trash and various classes of recyclables) has a sensor, and when you place your hand in front of it, the trash can’s metallic door swings up and open, allowing you to toss in your trash without having to directly touch it with your fingers or push your whole hand inside the territory of trash.

Aside from the hygiene benefit, the setup also allows for easier waste management by the facility. According to the management, having the trash receptacles connected to the inside of the building allows maintenance workers to easily keep an eye on it. In busy times, they can more easily empty the bin into the larger collection of trash that needs to be shipped off to the recycling or waste management center, and at slower times they can wait for the bin to fill up, rather than sending someone outside the building to round up the contents of trash cans that are only half full by the time of their regularly scheduled sweep.

It’s a cool, clean, and clever idea, and another example of whether they’re high-tech or samurai-style old-school, Japan’s highway parking areas are always worth checking out.

Related: Kiyama Parking Area website
Photos ©SoraNews24
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