Seoul, a Resource-Recirculating City
1. Need for Waste Disposal Policy
Citizens’ demand for a proper waste disposal service has been on the rise. To meet the growing demand, the city government of Seoul strives to provide innovative cleaning services and to find ways to dispose waste that satisfy the needs of both cleaning personnel and citizens.
Furthermore, worsening climate change is putting pressure on Seoul which is also faced with address waste disposal issues, such as banning of direct landfilling of household waste. Therefore, it is urgent that Seoul formulates and carries forward an innovative waste management policy with a mid-to-long term perspective.
2. Waste Status of Seoul
Amount of Waste Generated
In 2012, Seoul generated 37,843 tons of waste every day. Of the sizable amount, 71% was from construction sites, 24% from daily activities of citizens, and 5% from workplaces. About 30% of household waste is food waste. After enforcing waste reduction measures, the daily household waste per Seoul citizen is incrementally decreasing.
Amount of Waste Disposed
Seoul is making every effort to recycle household waste to the greatest extent possible. In 2012, 9,189 tons of household waste was generated every day, 65% (6,005 tons) of which was recycled. The 3,184 tons of non-recyclable waste was either put into landfills or incinerated. 1,924 tons of waste was generated in workplaces every day, 36% (685 tons) of which was recycled. Waste generated from construction sites recorded the highest recycling rate of 91% (24,430 tons) out of 26,730 tons daily.
Waste Disposal Cost
Each administrative district of Seoul is in charge of its own waste disposal. One needs to purchase a volume-based waste bag sold by the district to dispose waste. In 2012, administrative districts earned KRW 147.7 billion in revenue from selling the volume-based waste bags and spent KRW 448.3 billion on waste disposal. Approximately 30% of the waste disposal cost was covered by selling these waste bags, which essentially was the cost Seoul citizens paid for disposing their waste.
3. Hurdles that Hinder Waste Reduction
Need for Improved Cleaning Service System
Until 1990’s, administrative districts of Seoul directly managed the waste collection and transportation services. However, inefficiency in terms of human resources and budget became apparent and private agencies started to take over such services starting 2000s. As a result of the shift to outsourcing, as of 2012, 54% of cleaning services are done by private agencies. Even though the shift in operation greatly enhanced the efficiency of human resources and finance, cleaners and citizens’ satisfaction declined because agencies heavily focused on efficiency only for cost reduction, which inevitably led to poor managerial transparency of the agency and reduction of cleaning personnel have arisen.
Problems were found also in the waste disposal method. In order to collect waste more efficiently, Seoul restricted waste disposal by mandating each different type of waste to be disposed on a different day of the week and time, which citizens found rather inconvenient. Some citizens’ unauthorized garbage dumping led to reeking and dirtier streets. Currently street cleaners go door-to-door to each household to collect their garbage. However, this method has a downside that cleaners need to bring a handcart to collect garbage in small streets where garbage trucks cannot pass, which is onerous for the cleaners.
Inadequate Separate Disposal and Collection of Recyclables
Recyclables disposed and collected in a residential area were not systematically categorized; therefore, some of the recyclables were treated as general waste. There was also a finding that some recyclables were mixed in volume-based waste bags, such as paper (26.4%), plastics (26.6%), and glass and scrap metal (4.7%). Furthermore, recyclables disposing practices were not done properly in many other places, including public buildings, large-size distribution centers, other general places of business and public facilities (parks and streets).
Another factor that contributed to inadequate collection of recyclables is that recyclable collectors pick up the recyclable items that have high monetary value (paper, PET bottles, cans, etc) before other items.
4. Moving toward World’s Cleanest City
To overcome such challenges and provide a cleaner environment to Seoul citizens, the city government decided to formulate a plan to make Seoul a Waste-Zero city by 2020. As part of such effort, it drafted four objectives of waste policies with a vision to make ‘Seoul, World’s Cleanest and Best Resource-recirculating City.’
The first objective is to dramatically enhance the cleaning system to make Seoul cleaner than Tokyo, Japan. Second objective is to raise the current recycling rate of 43% to more than the German city Freiburg’s 66% by implementing a stronger city policy for separate disposal of recyclables. Third objective is to reduce food waste by 30% and establish a stable foundation for public disposal system by achieving a solid volume-based food waste disposal system. Fourth objective is to accomplish “Zero Direct Lanfilling” of household waste and build a foundation for recycling incineration ash.
There are five major strategies to achieve these objectives.
First, Seoul will no longer pass the full responsibility of waste disposal tasks to its administrative districts; instead, it will start tackling the issue together with the districts. And financial investment in metropolitan facilities and adjustment function need to be strengthened by assessing the current status of waste in the city as a whole.
Second, Seoul will devote itself to developing a waste disposal model specifically optimized for Seoul. To this end, Seoul will benchmark best practices from overseas and guidelines for cleaning administration such as cleaning equipment, volume-based fees, and street cleaners’ wages should be proposed.
Third, Seoul will replace outdated laws and institutions with more the ones that allow a more advanced cleaning administration. Opinions of administrative districts and citizens will be widely included in the process.
Fourth, Seoul will launch an innovative waste disposal campaign in which citizens participate. The engagement will help a waste-reducing culture, such as disposing recyclables separately, take a firm root in everyday life.
Fifth, Seoul will establish a consultative body that consists of officials from administrative districts and nongovernment experts as well as an advisory group of nongovernment experts., in order to improve the current cleaning system.