Institutional Waste: The English Department Buffet Lunch

I am continually shocked at the amount of waste produced by institutions such as universities and schools, especially when one would expect the minds at the forefront of society to be the first to change the wasteful habits of humanity. Last week, our department held it’s annual freshman seminar, which basically means a bunch of speeches by students who studied abroad, a big buffet lunch, topped off by badly designed and very not fun “get to know your teachers” game. Not once was I consulted regarding the event, which is a shame since I ran a series of very popular childrens camp programs and have rather a lot of experience with event planning. It seems to me that so very little thought was put into the event, it’s such a shame when something wonderful could have been done.

The buffet lunch – the primary consumers of which I should say were 18 year old girls that tend to watch their weight very carefully – consisted of huge tables of random cold pizza, cold burgers and sandwiches and other finger foods. Very typical affair with sub-standard food, but the proportions were shocking. The portions were piled high and it was quite obvious from the start that no one would be eating that much. In fact, it seems it was planned on from the start – one teacher had even had the forethought to bring plastic trays for everyone to take home leftovers. Here’s what I brought home, sorry I didn’t take any pictures of the actual tables of food – but imagine about 5 times this amount PER PERSON being leftover and you’ll get the idea. That’s for 100 or so people, by the way.


Really, it made me sick to think that so much money and so much food could be wasted – I’m sure these girls aren’t paying extravagant tuition fees to have them frittered away on horrendously bad quality food and blank videotapes

Not only was the food wasted, but the opportunity to make an enjoyable event that might be remembered by the freshmen for the rest of their university career was wasted by failing to consult the rest of us.

Submitted to Food Waste Friday @ FrugalGirl. Frugal Girl is one of my inspirations for starting this site, so do please go check her out.

Get some wheels (part 1): K-Cars

This is the first post from our new author Leon. Leon is a web developer and is raising a family in Japan, so he knows all too well the importance of frugality. Be sure to leave and comment, and if you’d like to hear more from Leon and I, then subscribe to the feed!

Being frugal about your transport in Japan takes a little knowledge. I prefer a motorbike for everyday use, but I also have a car for the family and transporting stuff around.

While you can pick up a late model car for a fraction of what it would cost you back home, you need to be aware of the fees structure here. A 5-door regular sedan will cost you upwards of ¥100,000 a year for registration, taxes and jibaiseki (mandatory 3rd party insurance).

A “k-car” or keijidousha on the other hand – which is any car with about 660cc of grunt – will only set you back a few man per year for the same.

It is usually easier to find a good price on a futsusha, regular sedan or bigger car. But when you factor in the increase in fuel, fees and parts costs, the total cost of ownership of a k-car will be significantly lower.


K-cars also get a discount when you use highways or toll roads. A ¥700 toll, for example would usually be ¥500 yen in a k-car (or 250cc motorbike!). Keep in mind though that k-cars are only allowed to carry 4 people at a time, including the driver for a combined weight of I think 200 – 350kgs.

When buying a car, I strongly encourage budding frugalistas to pay the extra for nihoken or 2nd level insurance. This is similar to fully comprehensive cover back home and there are various plans available. Why spend the extra money? The mandatory jibaiseki, which is illegal to drive without, only covers you up to ¥1,000,000. The minimum cost of damages just for hitting a jidouhanbaiki (a vending machine) is ¥5,000,000! You can imagine how many more lifetimes worth of pay-checks you will be paying if you injure a real person!

As with all frugal things and life in general: failing to plan is planning to fail.

Stay tuned for a follow up on 2-wheeled frugalistic fun!

Institutional Waste

I am an incredible advocate of recycling, and have been since I was a child. I have never understood the mindset of individuals who do not spend the minuscule effort required to separate their trash. I convinced my parents to recycle when I was barely 7, back in the dark days when recycling meant hauling everything monthly a few miles to the local “recycling centre”. And not once have they wavered all these years. Nowadays there is even less excuse for recycling – in fact it is now mandatory across Japan and pickups are the same as with regular trash, from your doorstep. Be warned though – just recycling is simply not enough anymore. Even if everyone in the world recycled as much of their trash as possible, we would still have two major issues to contend with.

Firstly, for every bag of trash you recycle, another 17 have been made along the production process on your behalf. You can’t recycle them. This is where your conscious purchasing decisions come into play. By purchasing second hand, you share the burden of production waste with another individual. If you insist on purchasing new, you can choose products that are potentially more expensive but have less of an environmental impact.

Secondly, and the real motivation for posting today, is that a significant amount of waste comes from institutions and companies. Working in a university, I see this every day and it really frustrates me. The problem with institutions is that they aren’t spending their own money, so they really just don’t care about waste. You’d think that a religious university such as the one I’m working at might concern itself a little more with moral issues of environmental consideration, but you’d be entirely wrong… Each new school year, every one of the teachers in my office gets given a new syllabus to horde away somewhere – but do we really need it? Wouldn’t one for the entire office be quite sufficient? How about the idiot that decided to order a metric tonne of VHS video tapes that still haven’t been used and most likely never will – their fate sealed to sitting in a storeroom next to the 17 or so 1000-sheet each boxes of fancy departmental headed lined paper that some other moron decided to purchase years ago. The fully equipped gym that I have yet to see any student use? The mountain of English language books in the university library that are far beyond the level of any student that has ever studied English here? Who is responsible for all these wasted purchases? WHO!?

The answer may be quite simple: we are. Or at least our predecessors, and our colleagues. Every one of us in the business of teaching English professionally is involved in some kind of purchasing decision using budget money, and ultimately it’s up to us to use that money responsibly. One obvious piece of advice for people involved with purchasing disposable media such as tapes and CDs, paper etc is to make an accurate estimate of what is required, and not just purchase a years supply because making out a purchase order next month will be too much bother, or because you have a couple of extra hundred thousand yen on your budget that needs to be spent somehow. Just think before you sign off on that order – what you do if the money was your own? Would you consider that order to be financially and environmentally responsible?

For those of you not directly involved in purchasing decisions, you can still speak out and convince those who do of the benefits of being frugal during these rough times.

Found any pointless and badly made purchases in your school or company lately? Please name and shame them in the comments! Or perhaps you have an excellent environmental plan of action at your workplace, let us know.

If you haven’t already, you might want to consider susbcribing to our feed – just by subscribing, I will pledge $0.50 towards a MicroLoan.

Save on trash bags by recycling plastic

In the last year or so, cities across Japan have started implementing the new expensive trash bag scheme in an effort to curb the amount of waste that needs to be burnt every day. Where I am, a 10 pack of bags costs around ¥500! While I applaud them for their ecological initiative, the special new coloured trash bags are *really* expensive, and you can save a lot if you know how to recycle wisely.


It still shocks me how many people are unaware that plastics other than just PET bottles can be recycled – or at least, for the purposes of saving money, can be put into much cheaper clear recycling bags. Some plastics are not worth recycling, but thats not for you to worry about. Indeed, anything and everything that has that little PURA mark on it can be thrown into the recycling bags, albeit separately from cans and bottles in another bag. In our house, we have a little recycling station in the corner of the kitchen. We have two recycling bags hanging there, one for cans and bottles, and the other for household plastic waste. You would be truly surprised at how much of your general waste is actually plastic.


So, regardless of whether the local government is actually recycling the plastic or not – there was a news report about Kyoto city just burning it along with all the other waste (I can’t for the life of me find a link to the video or an English article on it, sorry) – there are serious savings to be made by cutting down on the number of trash bags you’re buying each month.

On another shelf we put cardboard and papers. Depending on your area, there may actually be a pickup for paper recycling. I lived here for years oblivious to the fact that one of those trucks playing an annoying tune that drove around at all hours of the morning was actually a paper recycling merchant – and they’ll even give you a little pack of tissues or a free trash bag if you’re getting rid of a lot (now there’s a reward we can really get motivated by!). They’ll also take your milk-packs, which is slightly more convenient than having to carry it to your local store to recycle them. Ask around about the paper pickups in your area.


My project for next month is to reduce our waste even more by making an indoor smell-free fast composter! Stay tuned for the next instalment of saving on trash bags.

Inspired by The Frugal Girl – showing near-zero waste is entirely possible!