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Zero-waste center in Japan reuses 700 old windows: 'We made something residents are proud of'

The Why Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center is an example of what is possible with a little commitment to building eco-consciously.

Zero-waste center in Japan reuses 700 old windows: 'We made something residents are proud of'
Image Source: why.kamikatsu / Facebook

The Why Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center, located on the banks of the Katsuura River in southern Japan, is reimagining the ways we think about eco-consciousness and community. The center was constructed to aid the town of Kamikatsu's ambitious goal of achieving 100 percent zero waste. Hiroshi Nakamura, head architect for the project and founder of NAP Architectural Consulting, shared, "We wanted to make this [center] a place that the residents could be proud of." Why Kamikatsu was opened in 2020 amidst the pandemic and has since won an award from the Architectural Institute of Japan. The town now hopes the building's newfound popularity will help attract new, eco-conscious residents to boost its dwindling population, CNN reports.


Nakamura and his team began designing the center in 2016 after consulting with the town's residents. Utilizing predominantly local and recycled materials, such as cedar timber from the surrounding forests, the team developed the building's support structure and skeleton. Until the 1970s, Kamikatsu had a thriving timber industry. Competition from cheap overseas lumber placed the industry in decline. Therefore, making use of local materials incorporated a key element of the town's history. In addition to this, the team was able to reduce fuel consumption from transportation and packaging.


For everything else following the basic skeleton, Nakamura used recycled materials. (Nonetheless, some parts like roofing materials, metals for waterproofing, bolts and screws for joints, and more, were new so as to meet building codes and safety standards). This was a difficult process. Like a jigsaw puzzle, materials were sourced and fit together piece by piece. Hence, building the Why Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center took more than two years. The head architect stated, "We usually design first and then apply ready-made materials to fit the design." According to him, limiting the amount of new resources helped reduce the building's environmental impact as well as the costs of building it. Typically, a similar project developed using new materials would have had double the environmental impact, he estimated.


A notable highlight of the building is its use of 700 recycled windows. Residents of the town collected old windows, some retrieved from abandoned buildings. The windows form "a patchwork quilt of glass panes against a backdrop of mountain peaks and rolling groves of evergreens." "The architecture itself was created with the memories of the residents," Nakamura explained. "So they have an attachment to it." Similar to several places in Japan, Kamikatsu's population is aging and declining. Younger residents have left the town in search of opportunities in the city. The Why Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center has thus created a sense of pride in the community.


The town of Kamikatsu was one of the first to pass a zero-waste declaration in 2003, making national headlines. Over the years, its residents developed a detailed 45-category recycling system that helped them achieve an 80 percent recycling rate as of 2016. In comparison, the rest of Japan achieved a rate of 20 percent in 2019. The center is only an addition to the town's ongoing commitment towards eco-consciousness. As the concept becomes popular across the world and eco-tourism picks up, residents hope the town becomes an example of what is possible. Momona Otsuka, chief environmental officer at Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center, stated she hopes more visitors will come to "experience zero waste in a positive way."


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