As part of an effort to ensure hygiene in household waste disposal while addressing the problem of insufficient landfills, Seoul opened resource recovery facilities in 1996. Today, the facilities can handle as much as 2,850 tons of waste every day.
Seoul’s Waste Landfill Problems
As the standard of living improved and consumption patterns changed along with economic development, waste generation steeply has increased every year since the 1970’s. For this reason, the amount of waste dumped in landfills continued to grow, occupying the existing landfills to their maximum capacity. Naturally, it became a social issue starting in the 1980’s to secure landfills that can handle waste consistently for a long time.
The government secured the 15.4 million m2 of reclaimed land in the West coast to be used as a waste landfill for Seoul metropolitan area, which has been shared by 58 local self-governing bodies of Seoul, Gyeonggi, and Incheon areas since 1992. Thanks to much effort in implementing the volume-based waste disposal system, expanding food recycling, and building resource recovery facilities, the amount of waste being gushed out to the landfill has dropped dramatically, occupying only 57% of the landfill site. However, the current contract that gave Seoul the right to use the land for landfill expires in December 2016, and Seoul is working with city of Incheon to utilize the remaining land.
Minimizing Landfill Waste
Seoul urgently needs to come up with measures for a stable and clean disposal of waste generated in Seoul. Since it is difficult for Seoul to obtain more sites for a landfill, Seoul needs to put effort in minimizing the amount of waste that ends up in a landfill so that the existing landfills can be used for a longer period. And Seoul has been actively seeking ways to implement waste reduction and recycling, searching for various types of solutions.
As a result, in 1996, Seoul adopted the incineration policy, which has been implemented in advanced nations, such as Europe and Japan that have similar geological environment to Korea’s.
Raising Operation Rate of Resource Recovery Facilities
Low Operation Rate in the Beginning
There are now 4 resource recovery facilities in operation: Yangcheon and Nowon resource recovery facilities (constructed between 1996- 1997), Gangnam facility (operation since December 2001), and Mapo facility (since June 2005). These facilities treated waste generated from the respective administrative district. Their operation rate, however, has been lower (20% ~ 45%) than had been expected. The reason was that incinerable waste was generated less than expected due to the adoption of volume-based system since 1995. Seoul engaged citizens to a great extent in finding an avenue to increase the operation rate of these resource recovery facilities; residents’ consultative groups that consist of representatives from neighboring administrative districts got together many times to discuss the possibility of sharing the facilities. However, due to the refusal of the residents of the district in which the facilities are located, the sharing objective was difficult to push forward.
Success Case of Facility Sharing after Communicating with the Community
Seoul has held resident consultations approximately 600 times since 2001 until today to discuss the possibility of sharing the 4 resource recovery facilities. Thanks to the effort, facilities in Yangcheon and Gangnam started to treat waste from their neighboring administrative districts since December 26th 2006 and May 14th 2007 respectively.
In addition, Nowon facility is also being shared since July 11th, 2007; Mapo facility started to treat waste generated from Jongno-gu and Seodaemun-gu since December 29th, 2008; Nowon facility is handling waste from Dongdaemun-gu starting February 10th, 2012; and Gangnam facility is receiving waste from Gwanak-gu since May 1st, 2013. Now 22 out of 25 administrative districts are using a resource recovery facility, and the operation rate of 33% in 2006 hiked dramatically to 85% in 2013.
Garbage Incineration that Gives Back Energy to Residents
When garbage is incinerated, this high-temperature waste heat can be recovered and utilized as an energy source for cooling and heating of the neighboring areas. Naturally, there are benefits: since residential buildings like apartments do not need to operate their individual or central heating systems, pollutant emission is reduced making the residential environment cleaner, and the waste heat can be used as an alternative to natural gas or diesel, cutting down the import of such energy sources from abroad.
Producing Electricity Using Steam Generated from Incinerating Waste
Steam generated in the waste heat boiler when incinerating waste at a resource recovery facility is transferred to a combined heat and power plant to run the steam turbine to produce electricity. After the electricity is used within the plant, the remainder is transferred back to a power exchange to be sold.
Generating Renewable Energy Utilizing Solar Power
As a part of the One Less Nuclear Power Plant policy, Seoul installed solar panels to Nowon resource recovery facility in October 2011 and Mapo facility in September 2013. Now these facilities are self-supplying the entire electricity necessary.
Disclosure of Facility Information that Strengthens Trust
Resource recovery facilities are equipped with waste receiving equipment, incinerators, waste heat boilers, heat suppliers, and pollutant removers. These facilities thoroughly process air pollutants to a concentration level greatly less than the legal standard. Data taken from the facilities are disclosed on websites in real time so that the local residents can access the information any time they want.
Resource Recovery Facilities Taking Root in Residents’ Everyday Life
Reducing the Speed of Waste Buried in Landfills
Thanks to the cooperation of residents of the Metropolitan area and efficient operation of resource recovery facilities, the amount of waste sent to landfills dropped greatly. Currently, about 57% of the entire landfill is being used, which suggests that the land can be used for a longer period time.
Greater Awareness of Waste Disposal Facility
Seoul is running tour programs at the 4 resource recovery facilities for students, residents, public officials, environmental organizations and foreign visitors. In addition, multiple pollutant-removing equipments are utilized to get rid of all the pollutants generated from waste incineration.
Then, the concentration level of gas emitted from the facility is measured, which are disclosed on via websites. Seoul also provides various amenities to the residents. All these efforts are SMG’s attempt to raise awareness among residents that the resource recovery facility is a waste disposal facility that is crucial in our everyday life.