South Korea's food waste reduction plans feature urban farming and modern garbage bins

ABC News

ABC News(SEOUL, South Korea) — “Compost in my vegetable garden!” “No, mine first!”

City farmers have been raising their voices to make sure their two-square-meter gardens are fertilized with compost made from food waste discarded from their homes.

The Jugong apartment complex in Beondong, north of Seoul, began an eco-friendly urban farm last year August, making use of an empty garden space right in the middle of the complex.

Thirty-six residents who applied for the opportunity are given farming lessons every Friday, and South Korea’s Land and Housing Corporation provided a system to turn food waste into fertilizer to construct a resource circulating farm.

When food waste piles up at each household, residents throw it into the processing machine. It takes a full month, combined with biochemicals to stimulate the process, for food waste to lose its original form and moisture to become compost ready to be used in farming.

The Jugong apartment complex was chosen by Seoul Metropolitan Government as a test for using eco-friendly farming methods with food waste compost. Seoul plans on expanding the project by subsidizing three neighborhoods this year, granting up to $60,000 each to cover operational costs.

“It’s meaningful that we use the compost made of our own food waste,” said Park Younghwa, 70, who has experience in rural farming, but never thought she would be given a chance to have her own farming space in the city. “Crops are tastier and more fresh when we cultivate them with food waste compost.”

The urban farming project is only part of a nationwide effort to reduce food waste in South Korea. In 2013, the South Korean government made it mandatory to throw food waste away in purchased biodegradable bags, in an effort to discourage food waste overall.

In the past, complex residents were able to throw away an unlimited volume of waste at a fixed fee. But every household must now buy 9 cent per liter bags from local supermarkets, discard food waste into designated trash sites in each neighborhood and pay according to volume — which means one would save money by lessening the amount of liquid in their food waste.

This rigorous program has resulted in a dramatic increase of the food waste recycle rate, from 2.1% in 1995 to 90.2% in 2016, according to Ministry of Environment.

Using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to measure and bill each resident for food waste has also become a trend in South Korea’s new urban development areas, which are known to lead high-tech experiments. The country has 75,425 RFID food waste processors in operation as of January this year, which covers 38.2% of the nation and 54% of Seoul city, according to Korea Environment Corporation.

With RFID, newly developed residential buildings are equipped with aluminum bins, which can fit approximately 230 soda cans, in which food waste could be deposited in communal recycling facilities or on each floor of the apartment building. Each time the bin is used, the volume is weighed, then billed together with management fees at the end of the month.

“We are a family of four and are spending $3 per month on a food waste fee,” housewife Choi Kwang-Soon told ABC News. Choi lives in a newly developed apartment complex in Suwon, 20 miles south of Seoul. She keeps in mind reducing food waste while planning meals and shopping for groceries, and has found one extra benefit of the new system.

“Since the trash bags aren’t stacked in an open space, we don’t have stench and filth problems anymore,” she said.

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