Most recent estimate of annual food waste: 4.82 million tonnes in 2014
South Korea is home to one of the world’s most innovative national strategies for fighting food waste: charging its inhabitants to dispose of food waste. To use organic waste disposal bins, residents have to either pay per garbage bag or, as of 2012, according to the weight of their waste (explained below). This year alone, the price of the specialty garbage bags has gone up 30% to provide extra incentive to reduce household waste.
The “volume-based waste fee” aka pay per trash bag system was introduced in 1995. Within 10 years of the system’s implementation, South Korea’s recycling rate had increased from 15.4% to almost 50%, according to a policy bulletin from the Ministry of Environment in 2006. The government has continued to include food waste as its pursued further recycling reforms, including banning urban-generated food waste from landfills in 2005 and announcing the RFID system in 2012. Under the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system, residents have to swipe special ID cards to open mechanized disposal bins so that they can throw out their waste. With each transaction, the bin recalculates the weight of its contents, and the disposer is billed once a month according to his or her waste contribution.
Unsurprisingly, the success of these measures over just a couple years has received international praise. According to the Strait Times, daily aggregate food waste in Seoul decreased from 3,300 tonnes to 3,181 tonnes between 2012 and 2014, and the city government is aiming to cut that to 2,318 tonnes per day by 2018. Household and restaurant food waste have fallen by 30% and 40%, respectively, PSFK reported earlier this month.
The Korean government’s focus on food waste came after years of ecological negligence, for lack of a better term. Even until 2013, most of the country’s organic waste was processed in sewage plants and then dumped into the ocean. The ‘gray water’ produced by the high liquid content of the waste devastated coastal marine life and even began leaching into soil. Although the government joined the London Convention against marine pollution in 1993, the ban on food wastewater dumping wasn’t enacted until 20 years later. Fortunately, most food waste today is recycled into compost, animal feed, or biofuel, largely thanks to government subsidies to those recycling facilities.
A final fun fact: in response to the anti-food waste trend, the company Smart Cara has started manufacturing domestic food waste processors. The appliances grind food waste into a powder that can be utilized as fertilizer or cooking fuel. With the rising fees for residential food waste disposal, sales of the processors tripled between 2013 and 2015 and continue to climb.
Kudos, Korea! 음식물 쓰레기에없는 말.
Other consulted sources:
South Korea: Ban on Dumping of Food Wastewater in the Ocean Comes into Force (Library of Congress)
South Korea: Cutting Back on Food Waste (Pulitzer Center)
South Korea’s food waste reduction policies (Innovation Seeds)