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Why do municipalities accept disaster waste? Evidence from the great east Japan earthquake

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Municipalities’ cooperation is critical for successful policy interventions for disaster recovery. Using a spatial econometric model, we investigate what factors affected municipalities’ decision to accept disaster waste following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. We find evidence that economic factors affect the decision, but that concerns about the radiation risk and social preferences regarding the affected area also contribute to municipalities’ willingness to accept waste. Our results suggest that social concerns play an important role in understanding municipalities’ behavior in emergency circumstances.

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  1. As of 10, March, 2020 (Cabinet Office Government Japan 2020).

  2. We obtained those data through a request for the disclosure of information to the Ministry of the Environment.

  3. In our context, reciprocity refers to the notion that the accepting municipality is motivated by the thought of receiving similar assistance should it encounter the same situation in the future.

  4. Aoki (2018) implemented household surveys and found that trust in safety positively affects the willingness to accept disaster waste.

  5. Disaster Waste Management Information Site, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.

    (in Japanese,, Accessed June 30, 2020).

  6. In Japan, waste is classified as industrial or municipal solid waste, and separate regulations are applied under the Waste Management and Public Cleansing Act (hereafter, the Waste Management Act) of 1970. Industrial waste is produced by business activities.

  7. If disaster waste contains a certain level of radioactive substances, its disposal is managed by the central government.

  8. In some prefectures, disaster waste was accepted by incineration facilities and landfill sites owned by the prefectural government. One example is Tokyo, which accepted about 25,000 tons of disaster waste from several municipalities.

  9. According to the guidelines of the Ministry of the Environment, radiation levels of combustible waste must be less than 240 Bq/kg for incineration and that of incombustible waste must be less than 8,000 Bq/kg for final disposal.

  10. When a municipality already disposes municipal solid waste through a wide-area treatment with neighboring municipalities, it is necessary for that municipality to obtain permission from other municipalities to accept disaster waste. Hence, all municipalities belonging to the group of the wide-area treatment are counted as host municipalities of disaster waste after agreeing to accept disaster waste.

  11. 11 1,000 Japanese yen was approximately 12.19 US dollars as of January 4, 2011.

  12. The parameters are estimated using the Gibbs sampling method on the basis of 1,000 retained draws from a sample of 1,100.

  13. No data on the number of volunteer activity at the municipality level are available.

  14. No data on the amount of donations at the municipality level are available.

  15. When annual throughput is larger than planned capacity, slack capacity can take a negative value.

  16. Rothman and Lichter (1987) suggested that political attitudes can affect the support of or opposition to nuclear technology.

  17. The definition of eastern and western Japan is based on that of the Japan Meteorological Agency. Eastern Japan consists of 23 prefectures including Tokyo and the affected areas.

  18. In the 2011 model, there is also the potential endogeneity issue that the guilt in not accepting disaster waste may have caused increased volunteering and donating in 2011. Therefore, we also estimate the models using the variables of volunteer activities and donation amounts before the earthquake disaster. Table D of Appendix D presents the estimation results. In that model, donation amount is still positive and statistically significant, whereas volunteer activity is negative and statistically insignificant.

  19. No data on the number of volunteer activity and the amount of donations at the municipality level are available.

  20. According to the Ministry of the Environment, 42 of Japan’s 47 prefectures have developed a Plan for Disaster Waste Management at the prefectural level (


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Table 6 Correlation matrix



See Table

Table 7 Marginal effects: Probit models on the decision to accept waste



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Table 8 Marginal effects: Spatial probit models (Neighboring municipalities within 100 km)


Table 9 Marginal effects: Spatial probit models (Actual neighboring relationship)



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Table 10 the estimation results from SARAR model



See Table

Table 11 Results with the pro-sociality variables before the disaster


Table C shows the estimation results using the variables of volunteer activities and donation amounts before the earthquake. The amount of community chest before the earthquake is positively correlated with the likelihood of accepting disaster waste in the 2011 model. The extent of pro-sociality in general affects the likelihood of acceptance around the period of the disaster but before the acknowledgment of the radiation risk of disaster waste had spread. In contrast to the results in the 2011 model, this variable (pro-sociality) has a negative and statistically significant coefficient in the 2013 model. In addition, the measure of volunteer activities before the earthquake is also negative and statistically significant in the 2012 and 2013 models. Pro-sociality in general before the earthquake might have led to moral licensing and a reluctance to accept disaster waste, supporting the findings of Mazar and Zhong (2010). Specifically, people usually positive toward volunteering might have become less altruistic in accepting disaster waste. The results of the other variables are similar to the main results in Table 11.

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Ishimura, Y., Takeuchi, K. & Carlsson, F. Why do municipalities accept disaster waste? Evidence from the great east Japan earthquake. Environ Econ Policy Stud 23, 275–308 (2021).

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