A Garbage Man's Mecca

‘Straight lines will lead to the downfall of man’ —Friedensreich Hundertwasser

The Austrian artist, architect, ecologist and designer of Osaka City’s multi-colored incinerator plant on Maishima in Osaka Bay, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, was famous for including more curves than a mountain highway into the designs of his architecture.

The plant became the Viennese artist’s final legacy to the world (he died in 2000) epitomizing Hundertwasser’s philosophy of harmonizing, ecology, nature, technology and art.

Built at the time Osaka had its hand raised to host the 2008 Olympic games, the plant and its funky exterior was chosen to compliment what would have been the site of the proposed Olympic stadium. In fact, the entire island (man-made) was floated specifically for that purpose.
   
Regardless of what could have been, nothing can be taken away from Osaka City Environmental Management Bureau’s commitment to safe and eco-friendly waste disposal. Construction began in March of 1997 and was completed in April of 2001.

The external colors and design were chosen to reflect what goes on inside the plant. Tall yellow and orange flames appear to dance up the side of the building, and you can hardly miss the bright red entrance against the skewed black-and-white checked walls out front.

As spectacular as it is, if all goes according to the designer’s plan, the facility will one day be completely hidden by the trees and greenery that dot not only the grounds, but also the walls and roof.

Hundertwasser’s wish was that nature be allowed to do what nature does; the trees and plants should grow or die as they would in the wild. As much as the plant’s staff respects his wishes, they sheepishly confessed to watering the gardens.

While not as colorful, the technology housed within the stylish walls is no less impressive. The plant is home to two furnaces capable of burning 450 tons of rubbish each day. Energy from the huge burners is used to power the generator that provides the plant’s electricity, making the facility completely self-sufficient.

The generator is large enough to power 33,000 vacuum cleaners and, judging from the spotless interior, may do just that. Excess power is sold back to the Kansai grid. Additionally, the plant has the capacity to crush 170 tons of non-combustible waste per day. Iron and aluminum are recycled, and rainwater collected from the roof along with recycled wastewater saves the plant about 400 tons of liquid life per day.

What is most impressive about the Maishima plant is that, while the visual impact is huge, the environmental impact is minimal. Exhaust gases and dioxins are filtered with catalytic converters, high temperatures and moist cleaning equipment keeping toxic emissions to below 0.1 nanograms.

Computer-controlled, superheated de-chlorination equipment is used to decompose ash and dioxins before they ever see the light of day. You won’t see smoke billowing from this baby.

Of course this much style and technology comes at a price, and the ¥60.9 billion price tag still keeps many locals awake with grief at night. The fact the environmental impact – or lack thereof – is priceless seems to offer little solace.

Osaka can and should be proud of a waste management system that is the envy of the world. Each year it attracts thousands of visitors from overseas who come and study how the plant deals with waste.

Trash Tour Info

Tours are run daily from Monday to Friday (except national holidays) at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The tours are free, but you should make a booking by phone, fax or e-mail, 10 days in advance. Tours are conducted in Japanese, but a good pamphlet is available in English. The tour takes about 90 minutes with a few hands-on activities (for the kids) and lots of informative, easily understood videos on waste management and an introduction to Hundertwasser.

Getting There

Take the JR Yumesaki line to Sakurajima Station. From there, take the Maishima Sports Island bus and alight at the Konohama Ohashi Nishizume stop.

Contact Info

Tel: (06) 6630-3353, Fax: (06) 6630-3582
Web: www.city.osaka.jp/kankyojigyo/english/
Address: 1-2-48 Hokkoshiratsu, Konohana-ku, Osaka 554-0041