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SEOUL – Most of the 2.5 billion tonnes of food thrown away each year worldwide end up in landfills. Spoiled food pollutes water and soil and releases large amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Not so in South Korea, which banned food waste from landfills nearly two decades ago. Here, most of it is converted into animal feed, fertilizer and fuel for heating.

Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, Not only because of methane, but also because the energy and resources spent on its production and transport are wasted.

A South Korean system that keeps about 90 percent of wasted food out of landfills and incinerators is being studied by governments around the world. Officials from China, Denmark and other countries toured South Korean facilities. New York City will require all residents to separate food waste from other trash by next fall, but a spokeswoman for the city’s health department said it has been observing South Korea’s system for years.

Many cities have similar programs, but few, if any, do what South Korea does on a national scale. Cost is the reason, said Dr. Paul West, senior scientist at Project Drawdown, a research group that studies ways to reduce carbon footprint. Individuals and businesses pay a small fee to dispose of their food waste, but the country’s environment ministry said the program costs about US$600 million (S$807 million) annually. .

Nevertheless, Dr. West and other experts argue that we should follow suit. “South Korea’s example will allow us to cut emissions on a much larger scale,” he said.

Korean culinary traditions tend to result in inedible food. Most meals are served with a few, sometimes dozens of small side dishes. Over the years, most of those remains were buried in the ground.

However, the country’s mountainous terrain limits how many landfills can be built and how far they can be placed from residential areas. In 1995, the government mandated recycling of paper and plastic, but kitchen waste continued to be buried with other garbage.

Dr. Kiyoung Yu, a researcher at the government-run Seoul Research Institute, who advises cities on food waste disposal, said political support to change the situation would help people living near landfills smell bad. He said it was triggered by filing a complaint about Stew is a staple of Korean cuisine, so the food discarded here tends to have a lot of water content, which makes it bulkier and smells worse.

“When everything was wasted, it stunk badly,” Dr. Yu said.

Since 2005, it has been illegal to send food waste to landfills. Local governments have built hundreds of facilities to handle it. Consumers, restaurant owners, truck drivers and more are joining a network that collects information and turns it into something useful.

At Jongno Stew Village, a popular lunch spot in Dobong District in northern Seoul, pollock jjigae and kimchi jjigae are the most popular menu items. However, owner Lee Hye-young will serve small bowls of kimchi, tofu, simmered bean sprouts, and marinated shiso leaves regardless of what you order. How South Korea Makes Good Use of Food Waste

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