Seoul Campus

Sustainable Waste Management in Seoul 01

Date 2017-09-19 Writer ssunha
  • Environment
  • Jeamin Song
  • 2017-09-19

< MODULE 1 >

Hello everyone, welcome to the lecture on waste management in Seoul. I’m Jae-Min Song, this lecture will provide the overview on waste management in Seoul, and we will share some lessons learned from Seoul’s experience.
Before I start my lecture, let me briefly introduce myself. I’m currently an assistant professor in department of urban planning and design at University of Seoul. Before joining the school, I worked for the World Bank on climate change agenda. So my research interests include sustainable urban development in developing countries, and mitigation and adaptation to climate change. I hope this lecture will provide some useful insights on waste management in many other cities.

This is the list of the contents.My lecture consists of four modules: the first module, I will present some of the challenges and opportunities Seoul used to have, and in the second module I will provide an overview of waste management policies in Seoul over time, and in the third module I will present some of the best practices and policies the Seoul metropolitan government and Korea has adopted to solve many issues in waste management.
And in the last module, I will overview some of the major achievement we have achieved in waste management, and will wrap up with some of the key lessons learned from Seoul’s experience. Let me start the first model. As I explained before, I will present some of the challenges and opportunities the Seoul Government has had in 1980s in waste management area. Let me start with some real pictures of landfill sites. These two pictures on the left, they show landfill site in Indonesia.
As you can see from the pictures, it is totally open dumping site and it’s not well managed. But it's not just about Indonesia. As you can see from the picture on the right, it shows a picture of landfill site in Korea in 1990s. So it’s only 25 years ago, but it looks quite similar to the pictures you see from here. So 25 years ago, even in Korea the landfill site was just open dumping site and it created a lot of environmental pollution, including contaminating river, ground water, and land, and also it had gas explosion incidents.
So the waste sector is one of the very problematic sectors for the local governments. Here, during today's lecture, I would like to share some of the challenges and difficulties Seoul used to have, and also would like to share some lessons we can draw from Seoul’s experience. Let’s go back to 1980s in Seoul. The first challenge is the rapid increase in waste generation. Here, the graph shows the changes in the total waste generation, and the population growth.
The rapid increase in waste generation had been caused by not only by the population growth but also by the fast economic growth. As you can see from the graph, the increase in the waste generation is growing much faster than the population growth. The reason is the positive relationship between economic growth and waste generation per capita. According to the many empirical studies, it is clearly verified that there is a positive relationship between economic growth and waste generation per capita.
With higher incomes and purchasing power, people tend to buy more and consume more and that all leads to more waste. So if you think about developing countries, we can easily predict that many of the cities in developing countries will suffer from the rapid increase in waste generation. And the next challenge is the limited disposal capacity. So even in Seoul, the amount of waste generation has increased really fast, but unfortunately the Nanjido, the only landfill site in Seoul doesn’t have much space to take more waste.
As you can see from here, as I explained before, Nanjido is the name of the landfill site in Seoul. It started to take waste from 1978 to 1993, but the initial plan was to take waste only until 1984 given the size, the capacity of the landfill site. But it was extremely hard to find a new place, a new site, for a new landfill or to build a new incineration because of the strong resistance from the residents. So in the end, as you can see from those pictures, it created a lot of environmental pollution and inappropriate treatment of landfill gas caused a number of fires during its operation. At the time it was closed, it created two massive mountains of garbage with a height of nine meters.
So in 1980s the most popular waste treatment method is landfill. As you can see from the graph, up to until the early 1990s, most of the waste was landfilled. There was not much of recycling or incineration. So that means all the waste, generated in Seoul, were sent to Nanjido, and that also means that we need more land to landfill. And next challenge, Seoul and many other cities in Asian countries has is a high proportion of food waste. The food waste can be characterized as high salinity and high moisture, and organic content. The waste having those characteristics is not suitable for landfill.
And if it is landfill it easily contaminate soil and groundwater, and also it creates strong odor problem. But as you see from the graph here, until the early 1990s the proportion of food waste is quite significant among other waste type.  And next challenge is NIMBY. NIMBY refers to Not in My Backyard. Not many people are happy to host or to build a waste treatment facility in their neighborhood. So as I explained before, Nanjido was running out of its capacity, but the Seoul Metropolitan Government could not find a new place in Seoul area because of the strong resistance.
As you see from here, in 1998 Seoul Metropolitan Government announced the plan to build an incinerator in each district. But because of the strong resistance the plan couldn't be fulfilled. So NIMBY is not just a problem in Seoul, but in the waste management you can easily find this kind of NIMBY in many other countries as well. So far we have reviewed some of the challenges and difficulties Seoul used to have. But now I'd like to draw your attention to some of the opportunities we can achieve in waste sector.
As you see from here, from the environmental perspective it is known that a waste sector is a low hanging fruit from the perspective of climate change mitigation. It means significant greenhouse gas emission reduction can be achieved at lower costs in a waste sector compared to other sectors. And also, recycling and reusing of products can reduce the use of the raw materials and all those contribute to the improvement in the environment. On the other hand, from the economic perspective recycling and reuse can create economic benefit as well, and I will share some of the detailed examples in the next modules.
Some of the economic benefit here I would like to point is that there is an indication that waste market from collection to recycling has a high value, and also it can promote creation of green jobs. So a waste sector can be a stepping stone for the green growth of a city and a country. And these days resource recovery from waste is another very famous example, which allows a city to achieve economic benefit at the same time. Ultimately Seoul city’s waste management can transform a city into a circular economy. So what is a circular economy?
In a circular economy we aim to reduce eradicate waste, not just from manufactory but also from throughout the life cycle and the use of a product. So as you can see from this diagram it creates a closed loop along the life cycle of a product. In a circular economy, nothing is wasted. So that enables a city to create a zero waste society. And that is what the current Seoul Metropolitan Government is aiming to achieve. I’d like to wrap up the first module.
I have shared some of the challenges and opportunities the waste sector can bring in, and in the next module I will provide an overview on policy change in waste management in Seoul overtime.

Thank you for your attention