In 2013, Korea brought into effect the Marine Environment Management Act, banning the disposal of food waste water into the ocean in order to comply with the London Convention. With this new law came a serious crack-down on food waste in Korea. In a small and densely populated country, and one where the standard of living has grown so quickly, waste was becoming a serious problem. New systems were put in place, and now the significance of such changes can be seen.
Residents were accustomed to a pay-as-you-go system for waste, but in 2013 this changed from a flat collection rate to a pay-by-weight system for food waste. This was put in place for residents, but also businesses and restaurants.
In parts of Seoul, smart disposal systems were implemented where individuals were given ID cards that are scanned before the waste is dropped into waste bins and weighed. In other areas, residents must purchase specific bags that are priced by 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: KIM GYONG HO / JEJUWEEKLY.COM”
In the neighborhoods where the smart disposal system has been implemented, Seoul has seen a 30% decrease in food waste. Filmmaker Karim Chrobog has created a short documentary on the changes in South Korea as part of the e360 video series “Wasted” (the whole thing is worth watching). To get a bigger picture of the changes, you can watch the video here.
For residents, this strict regulation has created incentives to lower waste (or learn some small scale composting skills!), but some might argue that it is excessively strict. No one can argue, however, that it hasn’t made a difference: in a relatively short amount of time, waste in neighbourhoods with a pay-by-weight system decreased their food waste by 30%. Not only is the waste being reduced by consumers, the collected waste is not headed for landfill but for animal feed, fertilizer, or conversion to electricity. These laws also target waste across multiple sectors, in contrast to, for instance, the recent law in France requiring only large supermarkets to donate excess edibles to charities. It’s possible too that, as mentioned in the film, food retailers and restaurants concerned with their bottom line will do more to reduce waste, but also might make more of an effort to connect with charities for the waste that still remains. The changes made in Korea do involve high costs and technology as well as some ‘tough love’ – laying down a stricter system – but it seems to be getting the desired results!
For more on how Korea’s Ministry of Environment is tackling food waste check out: