South Korea Begins Charging Residents for Food Waste

Image courtesy of Emmanuel DYAN

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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 Kim Gyong Ho /

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 /

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.

Feature image courtesy of Emmanuel DYAN

Mary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni

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.
Mary Mazzoni