The regulations on food waste disposal are becoming stricter. To reduce inconveniences on citizens, Seoul is implementing the Zero Food Waste, Seoul 2018 policy to minimize food waste generated and to turn it into resources.
Measures against Food Waste Problem Urgently Needed
Korea has been putting efforts to reduce waste such as food waste after joining the London Convention in December 1992, an international convention conmitted to preventing marine pollution by waste dumping of wastes into the sea.
Stronger Food Waste Regulation
In 2005, direct landfilling of food waste was banned and separate disposal of recyclables was implemented on a national scale. As food waste water was banned to be released into the sea starting January 2013, a few food waste disposal companies refused to treat the waste, causing much inconveniences on citizens. This was because of hike in disposal cost since the food waste water now had to be treated on land. Since both the citizens - the producers of waste - and the local governments pay for waste disposal cost, the food waste problem is, after all, a social issue.
Enormous Food Waste Disposal Cost
As of 2013, 3,070 tons of food waste is generated every day in Seoul, which is 0.03kg per day per person. Of it, 1,920 tons of food waste produced from the household category (single-family houses, multiunit buildings, and small-size restaurants) takes up 62.5%. Also, every day, 1,149 tons of food waste is generated from large waste-producing business sites such as food-serving places like big-size restaurants and hotels, and agricultural & fish markets. Of this, about 700 tons of garbage is utilized without changing its original form because of good condition.
In Seoul, the waste disposal cost is shared by most of administrative districts and citizens. It costs on average KRW 110,000-120,000 to treat 1 ton of food waste. If collection and transportation cost of about KRW 50,000 is added, a total of KRW 170,000 is required to collect, transport, and treat 1 ton of food waste. As of 1st quarter of 2013, residents only pay more or less 30% of the total disposal cost, equivalent to collection and transportation cost, even though they are the very producers of the waste. This means that the remaining 70% is covered by administrative districts. However, some districts in poor financial condition are burdened by the average annual cost of KRW 4-5 billion for food waste management.
If the food waste generated every year in Seoul is reduced by as little as 20%, KRW 20-30 billion of management cost can be saved annually, which is enough to build 30 public daycare centers.
Seoul’s Efforts to Minimize Food Waste
City-wide Implementation of Volume-based Food Waste Disposal System
In the past, a flat-rate food waste disposal system was applied to Seoul’s multi-unit buildings in which residents were able to dispose as much as food waste they wish once they pay a flat fee. A volumebased system, on the other hand, was implemented on single-family houses, which comprised only 70% of entire Seoul. To reduce food waste even more, in 2010 the city government began thinking about implementing the volume-based system to all multi-unit buildings and single-family houses in Seoul to reduce food waste.
Before implementing the volume-based system city-wide, Seoul carried out a pilot program with multi-unit buildings and single-family houses in some administrative districts for two years since 2011. After assessing the results from the pilot program and addressing related issues, Seoul enforced the system all city-wide. 18 districts implemented the ‘volume-based system per housing complex’ either by issuing a payment certificate or utilizing RFID to weigh the garbage on garbage trucks, and the other 7 districts adopted the ‘volume-based system per household in multi-unit buildings’ by utilizing special waste bags or RFID system.
Stable Disposal of Food Waste Water
In 2012, Seoul generated average 3,311 tons of food waste per day. Of this, waste water was 1,800 tons, of which 622 tons was released into the sea. However, as releasing food waste water to the ocean was banned starting January 2013, Seoul was in need of a solution. Preparing for the ocean dumping ban, Seoul invested approximately KRW 7 billion in installing food waste water injection facility and anti-odor facility to Jungnang and Seonam Water Treatment Centers.
Also, in order to consistently treat food waste water generated in the Metropolitan area including Seoul, Gyeonggi, and Incheon, Seoul pushed forward a project of building a facility capable of processing 500 tons of food waste water a day in the Metropolitan area landfill that converts food waste water to biogas. As a result, the daily 622 tons of waste water that used to be released into the sea is now being treated 100%. In 2013, every day, 1,454 tons of waste water was generated, 89% (1,945 tons) of which was treated by public water treatment facilities and 11% (160 tons) by private contractors.
Also, the public food waste disposal and recycling facilities planned in the future will have a food waste water treatment facility installed on site, and food waste water treatment function will be added to the existing recycling facilities. As such, Seoul is planning to treat 680 tons of food waste water per day by 2020 by expanding the related facilities.
Installing Food Waste Reducer
Citizens started to make effort to reduce food waste due to the implementation of volume-based food waste disposal system which was enforced city-wide since 2013. Against this backdrop, there was a rise in demand for devices that reduce the volume of food waste. The city government carried out a pilot program for using food waste reducers for 2 years from 2012 to support citizens’ effort to reduce food waste. Seoul supported 19 administrative districts for their operation of large-size reducers, and decided to give the district KRW 2.5 million per reducer, which is equivalent to 5-month rental fee.
Seoul subsidized the districts with KRW 557 million for operating 231 large-size waste reducers from 2012 to 2013. Also, in 2014, Seoul also paid for the purchase of 20 large-size reducers for low-income families in multi-unit buildings in Guro-gu to use. After the 2-year pilot program, Seoul found the large-size reducers effective since they reduced 80% of food waste. Also, 83% of the residents surveyed said they were satisfied with the reducer.
Parallel to Seoul’s pilot program, administrative districts also carried out their own large-size reducer pilot programs. However, there was a problem that different types of large-size reducers with unequal performance levels were purchased by districts and supplied to multi-unit buildings. Being aware of this issue, Seoul formulated and recommended a quality standard guideline for food waste reducers in order to induce production and provision of reducers with reasonable quality. This guideline, which is applicable to large-size reducers with daily processing capacity of less than 100kg, is for administrative districts to use as a reference when purchasing and installing large-size reducers for multi-unit buildings.
Food Waste Shrinking Gradually
Ever since the city government started to aggressively implement the volume-based food waste disposal system in January 2013, the amount of food waste generated in the household category in 25 administrative districts, which recorded 2,197 tons per day in the first half of 2012, shrank to 1,978 tons in the same period of 2013. This means that, on average, 219 tons of food waste decreased every day resulting in a 10% reduction annually. Furthermore, the food waste produced in the household category also saw a 14% reduction, a KRW 1.8 million cost saving annually. (Large waste-producing business sites disposed food waste on their own.) Seoul’s RFID volume-based food waste disposal system was also introduced in The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, in March 2014.