It’s been mistaken for a theme park, attracts thousands of tourists every year and even has its own TripAdvisor page.
But this strange Japanese building hides a dirty secret.
This is actually the Maishima Incineration Plant, where 900 tonnes of rubbish is hauled in from around Osaka and burnt every day.
It’s a critical piece of infrastructure for managing the waste produced by the 2.6 million residents in Japan’s third-biggest city.
On the Maishima plant’s TripAdvisor page, tourists marvel at the sheer wackiness of the architectural facade.
The Maishima Incineration Plant in Osaka processes 900 tonnes of rubbish each day in Japan’s third-largest city. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
“Just when you think Japan can not shock you anymore … think again,” reads one review.
“Only Japan could make a waste disposal plant look like Disneyland.”
In Japan, where land is a scarce resource, just 1 per cent of council waste ends up in landfill, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Much of Japan’s waste is burnt at one of the 1,000-plus incinerators dotted around the country.
In Australia, since the 1970s, backyard incineration and open burning at landfills has declined sharply due to health concerns.
The Maishima plant is often mistaken for the nearby Universal Studios theme park. (ABC News: Jake Sturmer)
But burning is now back on the agenda in the wake of China’s recyclables ban.
Osaka’s Maishima plant cost $730.5 million and handles a quarter of Osaka’s rubbish.
The facility’s manager said while the cost may seem expensive, the plant provided value to the community by reducing waste and generating electricity.
When it first opened in 2001, sightseers used to mistake it for the nearby Universal Studios theme park.
At the Osaka facility, an elderly couple is taking photos and admiring the building — they are fans of its designer, Viennese artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
The plant cost $730 million to build and was designed by Austria’s Friedensreich Hundertwasser. (ABC News: Jake Sturmer)
His intentions were to symbolise the harmony of technology, ecology and art by creating a structure with roots in the local area.
“Since straight lines and identical objects do not exist in nature, Hundertwasser incorporated curved lines into each shape and encompassed the buildings in green as a symbol of harmony with nature,” the plant’s glossy pamphlet proclaims.
Burning a big part of Japan’s waste management
In Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis, there are now 21 high-tech incineration facilities within its 23 wards.
While not as architecturally interesting, it’s not had to spot the smoke stacks which stick out even among the megacity’s towering skyline.
The fleet of incinerators are burning rubbish constantly.
The Toshima Incineration Plant in northern Tokyo is one of 21 incinerators in the world’s largest metropolis. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
“Now there is only one landfill site left in central Tokyo area,” Wataru Sasaki, manager of the Toshima Incineration Plant in northern Tokyo, said.
“We need to reduce the amount of landfill so our future generation can keep using it — rubbish becomes one-twentieth of [its size] when it’s incinerated.
“Furthermore, you can recycle some of it into slag and use it as cement.”
That cement is used as asphalt and bricks that pave some of the streets and paths of Tokyo.
The heat from the Toshima plant is also used to warm nearby pools and the facility generates enough electricity to power itself and sell excess capacity back into the grid.
The rubbish is burned and then turned into cement which is used to pave Tokyo’s streets. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
Incineration plants have prompted health concerns and Japan implemented extremely strict laws in the early 2000s to alleviate fears.
“At the same time, all of the small size incinerators which were not able to burn at high temperature were shut down as they generated dioxins,” waste economist Shusaku Yamaya said.
“Japan now has large-scale incinerators which cover big areas and cleared the dioxin problem.
“But it cost a huge amount of money to build incinerators so it was inevitable that the waste management cost went up.”
Toshima manager Wataru Sasaki says the incineration plants mean there is only one landfill site in Tokyo. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
An imperfect solution for Australia
Waste-to-energy projects may be expanded to help tackle the growing recycling crisis in Australia, according to Minister for Energy and Environment Josh Frydenberg.
But Professor Yamaya warns the capital costs of incineration plants are significant and said it was an imperfect solution for Australia.
“I think it’s most important to think about waste prevention,” he said.
“[Australia] should build the minimum number of incineration facilities and not burn in large scale.
“[But they are useful because] the waste becomes [a fraction] of its size after burning and I think it’ll have a significant effect as it can also extend the life of the final landfill sites.
“Also it’s essential to build a high-level incineration facility which can reuse the energy as much as possible.”
While it works for Japan, a waste economist said it may not fully suit Australia. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)
His advice is to implement a user-pays system, where you have to pay per bag of rubbish.
“The biggest effect of paying for rubbish is it will improve separation of waste,” Professor Yamaya said.
“[The system] only charges for rubbish that needs to be processed — it’s free if you separate them.
“In Japan it has reduced about 20 per cent of burnable rubbish and about 15 per cent of the total amount of rubbish including burnable and recyclables.”