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Pollution in Japan - statistics & facts

Rapid industrial development, economic growth, and the increase in the country's population have influenced the environment in Japan over the past decades. Air, land, and marine pollution have become major issues, causing health problems, and contributing to climate change.
In addition to pollution caused by human activity, natural disasters contribute to environmental pollution. In recent years, Japan ranked among the countries with the most natural disasters, with earth and stone debris accounting for the largest share of waste generated by disasters.

Main causes of environmental pollution

Air pollution is one of the major environmental issues in Japan. The number of deaths attributable to air pollution has been rising continuously over the past decade. A major cause of air pollution is fossil fuel combustion, which is produced from power plants, industrial facilities, and automobiles. Therefore, the areas with the highest levels of air pollution are highly populated, urban areas.
The energy conversion sector was the main air polluting sector in Japan, causing most carbon dioxide emissions. After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, nuclear energy was replaced by fossil fuels such as coal and gas, resulting in increased emissions shortly after the disaster.

Another environmental issue that is caused by human activity is the pollution of land and oceans through waste. In 2018, Japan was one of the leading countries to generate plastic waste. With the incineration rate of municipal waste increasing to over 70 percent, incineration was the most widely used waste treatment method, as it can easily reduce the volume of waste. Despite filtering technologies, the incineration process produces greenhouse gases that contribute to air pollution and climate change.

Measures to reduce pollution

Following the increasing number of marine pollution cases in Japan, alongside rapid industrialization, the Japanese government enacted the Water Pollution Control Law in 1970. The law prohibits the discharge of wastewater that does not meet the effluent water quality standards.
As a measure to reduce waste pollution, the Japanese government currently promotes the so-called 3R initiative, which encourages businesses and citizens to focus on the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling waste. While the recycling rate of plastic waste increased to over 80 percent, the recycling rate of Japan's total waste has remained low at around 20 percent over the past decade.
To improve the air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the country focuses on diversifying its energy mix, with an increased nuclear and renewable energy share. In recent years, figures indicated a decline in the total annual greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, there was international criticism that Japan's measures are not sufficient to counteract climate change.

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Pollution in Japan

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Carbon dioxide emissions

Waste generation

Waste treatment

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