Technology Trumps Food Waste in South Korea

By Brennan Hogan, Marketing Manager  //  May 29, 2015

Food Waste in South Korea
* Content for this article was provided in part by the short film Wasted, by Karim Chrobog. Watch part 2 of the film here.

If you had to pay a fee for wasting food, would you cut back on what you throw out? South Korea bet on the answer being a resounding "yes," which is why it is now the country with the world's strictest food waste laws.

The twentieth century saw great economic improvement in South Korea, which brought with it increased food waste. In 2012, South Koreans were wasting around 170,000 tonnes of food every day, costing the country more than $600 million a year in disposal costs. Most of this waste was being treated at sewage plants and then dumped into the ocean, but in 2013, this practice was banned in accordance with the London Convention.

In response to the ban, the Korean government established measures to dramatically reduce the volume of food waste generated. This included instituting a system in which residents and businesses pay for the food waste they generate, targeting 99% of the population across 144 municipalities.

The system is straightforward: residents begin by going to a "Recycle Zone" that houses multiple garbage bins secured underneath electronically-controlled lids. They then scan their personal Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card at any one of the bin stations, which opens the lid for that bin. Residents dump their waste, and the station automatically calculates the weight of the food added to the bin. That data is sent to the Korean Environmental Corporation, which can assess fees to that resident depending on the amount of food that he or she disposed of. Instead of sending the waste to rot in a landfill, companies collect it and process it into animal feed, make fertilizer, or use it to generate electricity.

South Korea's food waste reduction efforts have proven to be a great success. Its RFID system has reduced household food waste by 30%, and restaurants are now wasting 40% less food than they did previously. And with almost 100% of its food waste being recycled in some way or another, it appears that South Korea chose the right path for tackling food waste.

Though circumstances are different in every country, the Korean system certainly provides food for thought and inspiration for innovation where food waste processing is concerned.

Topics: Food Waste Around the Globe, Food Waste Prevention Newsletter