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Saturday, May 24, 2003
Illegal dumping mob-linked, lucrative, underestimated
By TOMOKO OTAKE
Japan's industrial waste disposal industry has long been shrouded in mystery.
Despite regulations governing the disposal and recycling of industrial waste, unauthorized dumping has been going on for years.
Every now and then, someone would suddenly come upon a heap of unprocessed or partially processed waste in the middle of a forest, enraging local residents and leaving municipal officials at a loss over what to do.
Masayoshi Ishiwata has seen it all firsthand. Since he was assigned to the Chiba Prefectural Government's industrial waste management division in 1996, the bureaucrat has tried to untangle the web of mystery surrounding the industry, which he says is often linked to the yakuza.
How? He has monitored dump trucks day and night, interrogated dubious operators and pored over their companies' financial records to find evidence of illegal dealings.
In 2001, within six months after Ishiwata was assigned to a satellite office overseeing the coastal city of Choshi, his team managed to terminate, through round-the-clock patrols and blockades of illegal dump sites, a massive flow of trucks trying to secretly dump trash illegally.
"There used to be up to a hundred 10-ton dump trucks dumping waste in the region every night," Ishiwata said in a recent interview. "Now we spot one truck every three months or so."
Ishiwata's efforts culminated in the December publication of his book, "The Industrial Waste Connection."
In it, he exposes the "economics of illegal dumping," with a detailed description of roles played by major participants: "anaya" (who dig up holes without approval), "ippatsuya" (the trucks bringing waste on a spot basis) and "matomeya" (who coordinate the illegal waste trade).
The coordinators, who make lucrative profits from the illegal dumping business, are often linked to the underworld, and many waste disposal firms are effectively run by gangs that profit from illegal dumping, Ishiwata said.
He estimates the size of the illegal waste disposal market at 1 trillion yen, some 10 percent of the total waste disposal industry.
Also in the book, he lambastes the Environment Ministry for underestimating the problem.
While the ministry estimates that 400,000 tons of industrial waste was illegal dumped in fiscal 2000, Ishiwata claims the actual amount is 100 times bigger.
He estimates that there are 10,000 or so dump trucks operating illegally in the country. This is based on the fact that Chiba Prefecture and local police have identified roughly 3,000 dump trucks that engaged in illegal dumping there. The trucks' license plates show they came from various parts of the greater Tokyo area, which accounts for a third of the nation's industrial waste output.
If 10,000 trucks, each holding 10 tons, operate year-round, the volume of illegally dumped trash would hit 365 million tons.
"You can't take statistics at face value," he said. "Just like in crime; it is common sense that there are 10 times more actual crimes than those recorded in the books."
Environment Ministry officials, while calling him for advice last year, refused to acknowledge the reality, Ishiwata said.
"I told them 400,000 tons is far from the reality," he fumed. "They were vaguely aware that their estimate is too low, but said they have no other data to fall back on, so they have no choice but to base their policy on that figure. I realized right then that the ministry would never be able to fix the problem."
Ishiwata's proposals include building more "medium-level waste processing facilities" -- incinerators, crushers and recycling plants -- to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill sites.
The biggest problem in the industry is the gap between the capacity of waste-processing facilities and the volume of incoming waste, he said, adding that if there were enough plants, illicit operators would be weeded out.
Ishiwata, whose book has sold 33,000 copies, said another key to resolving the problem is to "give lawbreakers an escape route." The ultimate purpose of the crackdown should not be punishing illegal operators but having them remove unwanted waste from the dump sites, he said.
"I have negotiated directly with owners of disposal companies many times," he said. "If you have enough evidence to prove they have committed wrongdoing, you can persuade them to remove the piles of waste. That should be your goal, not arresting them or making them go bankrupt."