Field: Food waste treatment and recovery, Providing financing, Waste reduction
Global Technical function: Drying, Promoting sustainable practices
Technical Function Unit: Raising awareness, Raising consumer awareness
Geographic Area: South Korea

South Korea’s food waste reduction policies

The South Korean government has established a comprehensive and successful policy mix aiming at food waste treatment and recovery. The objective is to change the food culture by reducing waste and recycling.

The challenge

Food waste has long been a significant problem in South Korea, especially as its traditional food requires of large number of small dishes. Food waste does not only include throwing away cooked food but also all food thrown away from production to distribution.

The measure

Recently the South Korean government has launched various programmes aiming at raising awareness on food waste, for example:

  • A ‘Food Waste Reduction Masterplan in 1996.
  • A recycling programme was established in 1998 and revamped in 2004, demanding the collection of food waste in residential areas and from food wasters such as restaurants.
  • In 2005 food waste was banned from landfills.
  • In 2010, the Ministry of Environment in collaboration with the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs carried out a food waste reduction project by signing agreements with different sectors for voluntary cooperation. The sectors included restaurants, hotels, schools, rest areas on highways, etc. Restaurants were encouraged to use fewer small side-dish plates and adopt eco-friendly menus; cafeterias in public institutions launched the "no-leftover day" once a week.
  • Also in 2010, the South Korean government introduced a volume-based food waste fee system.

Under the volume-based charge scheme, households are required to pay based on the amount of food waste they generate. Municipalities can choose among three “pay-as-you-throw” solutions. First, there are paid standard plastic bags. Secondly, attaching paid stickers to food-waste bins (which are not emptied without stickers). The third includes a high-tech solution: operating food-waste bins with magnetic card-readers that households must use when disposing of their waste. The weight of the waste is measured on a scale at the bottom. Monthly data serves as a basis for charging fees to households.

Lessons learnt

The mix of food waste reduction measures have had a great impact on raising consumer awareness and on the environment. The recycling rate of food waste has risen from 2% in 1995 to 95% in 2009, and in turn, food waste going to landfill has drastically decreased. Instead, food waste is now being turned into compost, livestock feed as well as biomass and biofuels.

To promote recycling, the government has been providing financing for the expansion of public recycling facilities that transform food wastes into livestock feed, compost and biomass. The South Korean government has recently invested a total of 782.3 billion Korean Won to build 17 biogas facilities and 4 sewage sludge drying fuel facilities that are estimated to turn 188,000 tonnes of organic waste into biofuels every year.

Further deployment

Korea’s food waste reduction policies are considered to be among the most advanced around the world promoting sustainable practices in the field (and therefore estimated to be 9 on the GML scale). The mix of policies as seen in the regulations and standards and the voluntary measures is highly successful; it is an approach that is transferrable and scalable to European regions.

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