Japan's Initiative to Institute a Life-Cycle Economy:
Lessons for Developing Countries

Hari Srinivas
Case Study Series E-099. April 2015.



Logo of Japan 3R InitiativeThe Fundamental Plan for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society was established based on the provisions of Article 15 of Fundamental Law for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society. This is a ten-year programme for accelerating the changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, based on the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002.

Japan's 'recycle-oriented society' derives its impetus from three interrelated causes - [1] the shear volume of wastes being generated, [2] rapid industrial development (along with a series of high-profile industrial mishaps ), and [3] the limitations placed by Japan's land mass.

The law was initially called as the 'Recycle-Oriented Society' law in 2000, but was re-translated from its Japanese name to 'Sound Material Cycle Society' Law during 2002-2003, indicating a major shift in emphasis in the way the law was understood and implemented.

A 'Sound Material Cycle Society' is defined as a society in which the consumption of natural resources is minimized and the environmental load is reduced as much as possible. The basic principles of the Initiative call for "the realization of a society in which sustainable development is possible with less environmental impact; prioritization of handling products, wastes and recyclables; and ensuring appropriate material cycle in nature."

Three key factors of the Initiative stand out - governance, education and technology

  • Governance:
    The Japanese initiative towards a 'Sound Material Cycle Society' has enabled the refocus of existing environmental laws on material flows, and enact new ones to fill the gaps and mismatches in existing laws. There are a number of laws clustered within this initiative, including (a) Fundamental Law for establishing a Sound Material Cycle Society, (b) Waste Management and Public Cleansing Law, (c) Law for the Promotion of Utilization of Recyclable Resources and other specific laws targeting, for example, containers and packaging, electric household appliances, construction materials, food, vehicles, green purchasing, etc. Clear roles and responsibilities for national, prefectural and local governments have been laid out, along with those for citizens, NGOs/NPOs and private firms

  • Education:
    Awareness raising among the general public, as well as the private sector as been strongly built into the initiative, in order to facilitate broader and deeper participation among a range of stakeholders. Political leadership has also been mobilized to drive the initiative forward - from the prime minister and the national government ministries, down to prefectural governors and city/town mayors.

  • Technology:
    There is less emphasis on technological issues, but is still one of the key focus. The traditional collaborative relationships between industry on one hand and research institutions/universities on the other, have been further mobilized for the Initiative's foci. Several 'Centers of Excellence' have been set up to research themes drawn from the Initiative.

Sources for all documents: Ministry of Environment, Japan - http://www.env.go.jp/, except last document, which is from the G8 Summit Secretariat

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org