South Korea Begins Charging Residents for Food Waste

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Photo: Flickr/jbloom
Photo: Flickr/jbloom

Last year, Earth911 contributor Leon Kaye traveled to South Korea and gave us the dish on the nation’s plans to begin charging residents and businesses for wasted food.

Aimed at cutting nationwide food waste production by 40 percent, the aggressive pay-by-weight program took effect in select communities at the end of 2012 and is being steadily introduced throughout the Northeast Asian country.

While South Korea has had a pay-as-you-go system for years, this is the first time it will directly charge residents and businesses for the exact amount of food they throw away.

Of 144 local district offices in the country, 129 are introducing the program off the bat, reports the Singapore-based media outlet AsiaOne. In addition to residents, the plan will affect restaurants, street-food carts and grocery stores.

Municipalities can choose one of three billing systems for the food waste system. In the first, called Radio Frequency Identification or RFID, residents scan a personal ID card on a specially designed food waste bin. The bin then weighs the scraps and bills the user accordingly.

Other options include adhering bar codes to designated curbside food waste bins or purchasing specially designed garbage bags that are priced based on volume.

SK Telecom, Korea’s largest wireless carrier, has designed RFID food waste bins with equipment that will weigh food waste to the nearest gram. Photo: Leon Kaye
SK Telecom, Korea’s largest wireless carrier, has designed RFID food waste bins with equipment that will weigh food waste to the nearest gram. Photo: Leon Kaye

In 2012, Korea’s 50 million citizens produced up to 170,000 tons of food waste per day, according to government estimates, most of which was treated at sewage plants.

The resulting grey water is then dumped into the sea, totaling about 3,800 tons daily last year. The practice poses obvious problems for a nation with sizable coastal populations and cuisine that is largely reliant on seafood and seaweed.

With landfill space dwindling, reducing food waste at its source quickly emerged as the only solution, and the pay-as-you-go system is already producing promising results.

In Seoul, which implemented the program last year on a trial basis, food waste generation has dropped from 116,845 pounds per day before the system was implemented to 90,389 pounds per day earlier this year, the South Korean Ministry of Environment told Asia Today.

Mary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni

Based in the Phoenix metro area, Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.

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  • http://www.printecosoftware.com/blog Michael Ponte

    Very interesting method. You would think most people would be against it, but it at least sounds like it had some solid results in that trial mentioned. Food waste is definitely a big problem, I would never have thought that charging people would be a feasible approach to solving that solution. Same with having a carbon tax, interesting concept and would definitely help force people to cut down but the question is how welcoming people will be to it. Do you know if any other countries are trying something similar to what South Korea is doing?

  • Guest

    I wonder if illegal dumping of food waste has increased since this commenced.

  • carl

    I lived in South Korea for a while. I lived in a small rural city of 25,000 people. They sell special trash bags at the 7-11 or grocery store. You buy them for like 10 cents each. They had different trash bags for different things, so I guess most of this program is just charging 20 cents instead of 10 cents for a food waste bag over a trash bag. I liked their system because you only pay for what you throw out. The trash man literally carried a 2 wheel cart and brings the trash to 1 of several in town land fills. You actually walk past the mini-fills on a regular basis! However, I did see a lot of trash without the bags. Also, there were almost no public trash receptacles.

  • Dan

    How about you check the math first? Not saying that there isn’t a huge problem with food wasting in South Korea, but it’s not 3,4kg per person per day.