Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has one of the most rigorous waste recycling programs in the world. For the last three decades, waste reduction and waste diversion from landfills have been key priorities in South Korea. With rapid urbanization, the Seoul Metropolitan Area has struggled with growing waste problems.
However, its world-class solid waste management (SWM) legislation and initiatives including a volume-based waste disposal fees (VBWF) system, a deposit refund system, extended producer responsibility (EPR), and bans on problematic plastic items and packaging have all significantly contributed to waste reduction since the early 1990s.
In South Korea, the disposal of municipal waste is divided into landfill, recycling, composting and incineration. Earlier, most municipal waste was reclaimed in local or metropolitan landfills and very little waste was recycled.
Back in 1991, recyclable waste started increasing due to the compulsory separate collection,where household waste is separated to recyclable material, food waste and the rest. The proportion of waste to be incinerated and recycled kept increasing while that to be disposed in landfills kept decreasing in Korea.
Presently in Seoul, all food waste disposal is charged based on the volume or weight, depending on the method each municipality chooses among:
- Charging per standard food waste disposal bag
- Chip or stickers system permitting food waste disposal
- Using radio-frequency identification (RFID) to track the weight of the food waste
The standard bag system is one in which a discharger buys a standard plastic bag to dispose of food waste. The fees are collected in proportion to the amount of food waste through the cost of purchasing the bags.
The chip or sticker system requires a discharger to buy a payment chip or sticker and attach it to a collection container to be picked up. The RFID system allows the information on a discharge to be checked through an electronic tag, and fees are charged according to the waste volume.
Since the RFID system is the most suitable option for the objective of a volume-based fee system, the Ministry of Environment recommends this system.
In 1995, in an attempt to reduce the quantity of waste and increase the rate of recycling, the South Korean government implemented a VBWF system countrywide.
The main objective of the VBWF system is two-fold: To impose waste treatment costs on each polluter based on the amount of waste generated, and to provide free collection service for recyclable wastes, thereby inducing reduction in generation of wastes at source and encouraging the collection of recyclable wastes.
Five kinds of waste bags are used in this system, which categorize waste into domestic waste, food waste, business waste, public purposes, and construction debris.