South Korea now recycles 95% of its food waste

South Korea is taking the lead on cutting food waste – the country has gone from once only recycling 2% of its food waste to now recycling 95%.

The massive hike is due to the mandatory recycling of food waste that was brought in by the South Korean government. In 2005, dumping food in landfill was banned. And in 2013, the South Korean government followed up by introducing compulsory food waste recycling using special biodegradable bags. An average four-person family pays $6 a month for the bags, a fee that helps encourage home composting. That year, the dumping of garbage juice or leftover water squeezed from food waste into the sea was also prohibited.

The bag charges also meet 60% of the cost of running the scheme, which has increased the amount of food waste recycled from 2% in 1995 to 95% today. The government has approved the use of recycled food waste as fertilizer, although some becomes animal feed.

As a result of these measure, Seoul has managed to cut the amount of food waste produced by 400 metric tons per day.

In the country’s capital, 6,000 automated bins equipped with scales and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) weigh food waste as it is deposited and charge residents using an ID card. The pay-as-you-recycle machines have reduced food waste in the city by 47,000 tonnes in six years, according to city officials.

Residents are urged to reduce the weight of the waste they deposit by removing moisture first. Not only does this cut the charges they pay – food waste is around 80% moisture – but it also saved the city $8.4 million in collection charges over the same period.

Waste collected using the biodegradable bag scheme is squeezed at the processing plant to remove moisture, which is used to create biogas and bio oil. Dry waste is turned into fertiliser that is, in turn, helping to drive the country’s burgeoning urban farm movement.

The number of urban farms or community gardens in Seoul has also increased sixfold in the past seven years. Most are located in between apartment blocks or on top of schools and municipal buildings.

The city government provides between 80% and 100% of the start-up costs. As well as providing food, proponents of the scheme say urban farms bring people together as a community in areas where residents are often isolated from one another. The city authorities are planning to install food waste composters to support urban farms in the near future.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about sustainable lifestyle and green living for publications, and offers content services to planet-friendly businesses. Find out more at

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