South Korea has managed to reduce food waste in amounts other parts of the world can only imagine accomplishing for now.
In Seoul alone, the volume of waste decreased by 10%, or more than 300 tons a day, compared to four years ago.
So how exactly did the country, once among Asia’s biggest food wasters, do it?
The answer dates back to a policy implemented in Seoul in 2013, which now covers 16 more cities and provinces across the country.
That is, residents must pay bills relative to the amount of food they waste, which are then processed for recycling.
Han Sung-hyun, head of the food waste management program in Seoul’s Environmental Management Division, told PBS NewsHour:
“At first, we processed all the food waste in landfills. Then we realized the pollution it created, and wanted to find a way to recycle the waste. It actually costs a lot to process the food waste. So we were like, let us find the way to save money, also to reduce pollution, and eventually to find a way to recycle the waste.”
What they came up with is a robust recycling system that transformed the food waste into animal feed and biogas, which may be burned to generate energy.
It all starts with residents disposing their waste on a special bin accessed through an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) card. The bin automatically weighs and records the amount dumped.
At the end of the month, each household will receive a bill commensurate to their total discharge for the period.
Alternatively, residents can choose to purchase pre-paid garbage bags priced based on volume, Asia Today noted. In Seoul, a 10-liter bag costs around 190 won or less than $1.
A third option is through a bar code management system, where food waste may be dumped directly into composting bins that charge disposal via bar code cards or stickers.
Meanwhile, trucks collect the food waste from apartments and commercial establishments on a daily basis, transporting them to designated facilities for processing.
With such innovation, Seoul now saves $600,000 a day — the amount it used to spend for mere disposal of food waste.
“I can say that out of 1000 households, there are about 10-15 percent of households that do not produce any food waste at all,” Han estimated.
The city’s Environmental Management Division, however, aims for better, targeting a 30% food waste reduction — or 900 tons a day — in the next four years.
What do you think about South Korea’s food waste management system?