South Korea has been using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and a ‘pay-as-you-waste’ system to help cut back on waste. In 2013, the country found that its waste had a particularly high liquid content – about 80 percent – which was leaching into soil and causing outbreaks of insects. Now, South Korea is using technology to both cut back on food waste and divert more of it for processing into animal feed and fertilizer.
The large residential waste bins for housing complexes such as apartment buildings can only be accessed with RFID-implanted cards. At first, entire apartment buildings were tracked and residents paid for an equal portion regardless of what share of the waste they generated. However, the program was revised in 2013 to track at the individual or household level. Each card now identifies who (or which unit) is throwing out the waste, and residents are offered choices for their payment program.
The first option is to pay by the bag; residents can purchase the number they need and they are priced according to their capacity (PSFK reports that a 10-liter bag costs about 190 won, or less than US$0.20). This both encourages sorting and reducing waste, since residents must buy more or larger bags to dispose of more waste.
The second option further relies on the RFID system; residents activate the garbage bin with their card and the bin weighs the garbage and adds the appropriate charge to their monthly fee. The system can also facilitate data collection by notifying relevant administrative authorities such as an apartment’s property management office or a local government office.
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The initiative has been met with some resistance. Residents have tried to avoid using the system by purchasing unauthorized in-sink garbage disposal systems, by flushing food waste down the toilet, or using regular bags and throwing out their trash in alleys. The latter has reportedly been a problem for some commercial property owners, many of whom also have to pay for waste disposal.
However, the scheme has achieved 30 percent and 40 percent reductions in food waste for households and restaurants, respectfully. South Korea’s strict food waste policies have clearly been effective in dramatically reducing waste in a few short years.
Meanwhile, earlier this month New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Mayor’s Zero Waste Challenge as part of the city’s plan to send zero waste to landfill by 2030. Thirty-one businesses across all five boroughs – including ABC/Disney, Anheuser-Busch, Barclays Center, Citi Field, Etsy, Le Bernardin Restaurant, NRDC, sweetgreen, Whole Foods, and more – have committed to divert at least 50 percent of their waste from landfill and incineration by mid-June, when the Challenge will conclude. They are further encouraged to divert 75 percent and ultimately 90 percent, if possible.
Since the Challenge began earlier this year, the 31 participants have achieved an average diversion rate of 60 percent. They have collectively diverted nearly 13,000 tons of waste from landfill and incineration, including composting over 4,000 tons. Initiatives have included modified purchase practices, reducing packaging, switching to reusable materials such as glasses in lieu of bottled water, switching from filing cabinets to digital storage systems, and more. Participants that regularly have leftover edible food are required to donate that food to a food collection organization such as City Harvest or Rock and Wrap it Up! to ensure that it can be used at shelters or food pantries for the city’s hungry.
“Producing less waste and donating food to those in need are sustainable habits that also save money for businesses and our city. The Challenge shows that it takes the cooperation of all sectors to combat climate change in meaningful ways,” Council Member Costa Constantinides said, adding that the Challenge is expected to help the city reach its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
The Mayor’s Zero Waste Challenge comes ahead of the new commercial organics law which will require certain subsets of businesses to source separate food scraps and other organic material for beneficial use in 2017, as well as new commercial recycling rules that simplify the city’s current commercial recycling rules, which are expected to make them easier for businesses to follow. Under these new Department of Sanitation rules, all businesses must recycle all recyclable materials.
“With the Mayor’s Zero Waste Challenge, the new commercial recycling rules and other commercial waste initiatives, we aim to achieve similar results from our commercial waste stream,” said Nilda Mesa, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “We have been pleased that in just a few months, Challenge participants have succeeded in cutting their waste dramatically. Through this Challenge we are learning even more about what it will take to meet our Zero Waste goals.”
Back in 2014, Massachusetts instituted a commercial food waste ban towards its goal of reducing 80 percent of all its waste streams by 2050. These initiatives also align with the national 50 percent food waste reduction target by 2030, established by the U.S. government in September 2015.