Japan’s ペットボトル (PET Bottles): What Are They All About?

Japan’s PET Bottles (ペットボトル)

For those unfamiliar with the term PET bottle, it may sound a little unusual. In Japan, however, the word ‘PET’ (ペット) almost always comes before the word ‘bottle’! While some people know why PET bottles are referred to as PET bottles – I’m sure not everyone does. 

A pet… bottle? What’s that about?

No, this isn’t a bottle for your pet. PET/PETE actually stands for polyethylene terephthalate – a recyclable food-grade plastic. PET bottles are quite an amazing invention. In developing countries, the bottle can be used to make water drinkable via solar water disinfection or even filled with sand and used as a building material.


Japan’s PET bottle recycling rate is actually putting us Europeans and Americans to shame!

(PET bottles recycle-rate globally)



For those of you who have lived in Japan, this probably won’t come as a surprise. Plastic bottle and can recycling bins are everywhere (one reason for this is because of the sheer number of vending machines that are often accompanied by a recycle bin).

Even in your home, plastic bottles and cans must be sorted into separate bags and put out on a different day than your normal garbage. Depending on where you live, the rules for throwing out your garbage will differ. In some areas, you will be allowed to bag your plastic bottles and cans together, while in other areas you won’t. 


Japan’s Unofficial Recycling System

In the larger cities, you don’t need to go far before you see people with huge bags filled with empty PET bottles swung over there shoulder or attached to their bicycles. These are homeless people who often go around picking up cans and plastic bottles off the streets in order to recycle them for a small amount of money. It’s not just picking them off the ground either – it’s not a rare sight to see a homeless people searching through plastic bottle bins that are often placed next to vending machines.

pet bottles, ペットボトル, japan, bottle recycling, homeless, plastic bottles

While Japan may have a good recycling rate for bottles, there are still huge steps that need to be taken with the recycling effort in general. Picking bottles and cans up off the floor is certainly a good thing and sometimes you may even see business men and women cleaning up the streets as a part of a company activity. However, I’m sure there are mixed feelings about (homeless) people emptying bins that are already going to be recycled. What are your thoughts on this?