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 user 2006-11-29 at 1:57:00 pm Views: 105
  • #16935

    Formerly known as one of the most polluted places in Japan, thanks to a movement initiated by a group of housewives the city of Kitakyushu is now an environmentally friendly zone
    During the early 1900s many heavy industries, especially steel factories, were established in the city of Kitakyushu in Fukuoka prefecture on the island of Kyushu. Large coastal areas were claimed to pave the way for industrial growth, part of the framework that supported the industrialisation of Japan, and later, its rapid post-war economic growth.However, by the 1960s the island city had begun to pay a steep price for an economic development which showed disregard for the environment _ some of the worst industrial pollution in the country. Smoke from the factories blackened the once blue sky and the surrounding seas were chronically contaminated with toxic substances released from untreated wastewater.”At that time,” says Mr Hashimoto Jyun, an official of the Environment Museum in Kitakyushu, “the city’s Dokai Bay was named the Sea of Death because even the bacteria and other germs could not live in it. The sky was called the seven-coloured sky because of all the different types of smoke released from the industries.”The pictures and exhibits at the museum, for example of a boy covered with black soot, school children wearing masks while studying in their classrooms, and the factory chimneys spewing out the dark smoke into the sky, tell a story of a city made nearly uninhabitable by industrial pollution.But the Environment Museum has another story to tell that is even more important. The museum chronicles a grassroots movement, led by a group of housewives, to reclaim the city. The housewives’ group staged protests and enlisted the help of academics to conduct a series of studies on the environmental damage. When the environment became a major electoral issue it was the beginning of the end of Kitakyushu’s nightmare.It wasn’t easy, but through the combined efforts of the local people, the city administration and the polluting companies themselves, the city’s blue skies and clean water have been called back from the past, and more than 100 species of fish and shellfish live in the surrounding waters.In 1990 Kitakyushu was awarded with the the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Global 500 Award, the first Japanese city to win the award, in recognition of the movement of concerned citizens to recover the heavily polluted city. Kitakyushu is now attracting Japanese and international researchers who want to learn more of the methods used there. The Environment Museum records for posterity the heartening lesson that environmental degradation can be reversed, a message that is very important for the younger generations to keep in mind.

    Kitakyushu was not alone among Japanese cities in suffering a severe loss of environmental quality during the period. The country’s rapid industrialisation adversely affected the public health in a number of communities. Well known cases from the mid 1950s to mid 1960s include the Itai-itai cadmium poisoning in Toyama, mercury poisoning in Minamata and Niigata and an outbreak of asthma in Yokkaichi caused by air pollution .In 1967 the Japanese government issued the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control. By the year 1972, all prefectures and local governments had set their own regulations to control pollution in their localities.A Kitakyushu city official said tough regulations were put in place there. For example, factories were required to install efficient air cleaners and switch, at great cost, to low-sulfur fuel in the early 1970s, which drastically cut emissions of smog-causing sulfur dioxide. Dust levels in Kitakyushu fell following a reduction of coal use.To clean up the sea, beginning in 1972 the city and the industrial sector invested a huge amount of money to successfully dredge more than 350,000 cubic metres of mercury-contaminated soil from the bottom of Dokai Bay.

    It was the housewives who made the difference.
    “If there had been no women’s movement, I believe our countermeasures would have been significantly delayed,” says Mr Jyun. Mr Noriyaki Seki, a representative of a local environment group, said that every year the city hosts an eco fair in Kitakyushu. This year the event was organised by the city administration with the help of 54 private firms and more than 100 nonprofit organisations. More than 100,000 visitors attended.The two-day event aims to instill an environmentally friendly spirit in the community and to encourage green activities and products.”This year, a biomass plastic glass made from corn was introduced. Ordinary plastics degrade very slowly. In some cases, burning plastic can release toxic fumes, leading to global warming problem,” said Mr Seki.While working to solve the serious pollution problems, the city accumulated a wealth of technical know-how, and now actively works to share that knowledge.Mr Jyun hopes that other countries in Asia will build up their environmental awareness so that they will not repeat the same mistakes as Kitakyushu. Noting that Kitakyushu is located in the centre of Asia, he said its lesson should be passed on to developing countries which are now struggling with environmental problems caused by industrialisation.”As far as I understand, many Asian countries do not pay much attention to the pollution problem. We are not in the position to tell other countries to do or not to do anything, we just keep on relating our bad experiences and providing the knowledge of how we solved our problems,” he says.Since 1980 the Kitakyushu model on tackling pollution has been brought to other countries through the help of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica). Dalian, a city in a province of the same name in northeastern China, has adopted the model over the past 15 years, during which time there has been a high level of cooperation between the the two cities. Local government officials from Dalian come for training at Kitakyushu. The success of the exchange was shown by the awarding of the UNEP Global 500 Award to Dalian in 2001.

    Kitakyushu is not content to rest on the laurels of past environmental achievements. The city is striving to become a true “eco-town,” not only a nonpolluting but a no-waste zone, through reutilising the wastes of one industry or activity as the raw materials for another. This includes recycling automobiles, home appliances, office equipment, fluorescent tubes, medical devices, cooking oil and fat, used paper, washing and organic solvents and food refuse. Close cooperation between local authorities, industry and the public has resulted in the development of processes to create a truly environmentally conscious community.

    This includes a comprehensive system of recycling plants.According to a Kitakyushu city official, the aim is to be “an international resource recycling base in Asia. To combine environmental efforts with economic benefits for green and sustainable growth has become a vital international issue.”The concept of establishing “eco-towns” was initiated and implemented in 1997 as a joint policy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of the Environment.Under the policy, local governments receive support for projects aimed at stimulating regional development through environment-related industries. Local administrations which have been designated “eco-towns” are eligible to receive subsidies from the national government for building facilities such as recycling plants.

    Kitakyushu City was the first of 18 eco-towns in Japan to receive accreditation, in the year 2002, from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of the Environment.The majority of the city’s recycling plants are established along the seashore in Kitakyushu’s Hibikinada district, an extensive stretch of 2000 hectares along the eastern coastline.The scale of the complex is huge, with specialised plants for recycling different items.In the Hibiki Recycling area, seven automobile recycling companies are operating. Also, cooking oil discarded from food production plants is recycled and reproduced as animal feed, construction paint materials and alternative fuel.In the Hibikinada East Area, there are waste wood and plastic recycling projects, a pachinko and slot machine recycling project, a project to reuse appliances such as personal computers and printer toner cartridge recycling project. In this area, the first wind power generation project in Japan supplies power for electricity generating.Kitakyushu city benefits from an advanced commercial and industrial infrastructure, including industrial waste disposal facilities such as the one for PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which are very toxic substances.In conjunction with its eco-town status, Kitakyushu city has established the Kitakyushu Science and Research Park, which undertakes education and fundamental research. Here there are joint research projects with universities from around the world to promote a broad based exchange of environmentally sound technology.