When I first came to the U.S. in 1999, I was surprised that there was no sorting required for the trash in my apartment building. There was a trash chute on each floor (connected to a collection area on the first floor), and everything (food waste, newspapers, plastic, cans, bottles, etc.) was thrown down this chute. Naturally, if a bottle was tossed into the chute from an upper floor, it shattered when it hit the bottom, but this was apparently fine. It feels wrong at first, but it is quite convenient once you get used to it. You can discard anything at any time, 24-hours a day. After becoming accustomed to this, the strict rules for separating and setting out the garbage in Japan seem quite irritating. On the first floor of the building where I live now there are large recycling boxes, and it is up to the residents to sort their trash. As far as I can see, there does not seem to be much effort put into the sorting process. There are fixed collection days for single family homes, and there seems to be some separation of recyclable materials, but the strictness of the sorting varies from place to place, and by the trash collector. Of course, it is not necessary to sort the trash into as many different categories as in Japan.
The number of hand dryers installed in public toilets in the U.S. is growing, but paper towels are still more common. Most people grab lots to dry their hands; some people even take another to avoid directly touching the door handle as they leave – they use the towel only to turn the knob and then toss it away. All of these towels eventually end up in the trash.
At places like Starbucks and food courts in the U.S. there are no containers to pour away leftover ice and beverages like there are in Japan. At most, there might be two different trash cans, one for recyclable items, and one for everything else. The leftover ice and liquids just get thrown into the trash with the cup. There are even people who pour coffee straight into the trash when they receive a cup that is a little over-filled. From a Japanese perspective, where individuals carefully sort their trash, this country seems “affluent” and “easy-going.”