The Seoul government is implementing the zero waste policy for all public office buildings to set a precedent in waste separation. The project targets a strict separation of recyclables from the waste-generating stage, as a way to minimize the total volume of waste and maximize the value of recyclables.
Inefficient Recyclable Sorting System of City Hall
Relying on Cleaning Staff for Recyclable Sorting
In the past, recycling bins (paper, cans, bottles, plastic) and general waste bin were placed on each floor of the city government building. Cleaning staff of each floor sort the recyclables from the bins first, and then they sort them again from the recycling depository in the basement.
Spending KRW 50 million Annually to Purchase Volume-based Waste Bags
Before the Zero Waste policy, Seoul had been purchasing about 2,400 volume-based waste bags of 100ℓ capacity to dispose waste of the city government buildings. When calculated, the annual cost was a whopping KRW 48.96 million. The city government analyzed the waste being disposed in the waste bags from its offices in order to recycle better and reduce general waste. Surprisingly, more than 70% of the waste inside the bags was recyclables, mixture of scrap paper, paper cups, and vinyl items.
Cause Analysis for Mixed Waste
There were 4 major factors that caused the recyclables not being properly disposed in the city government buildings. Firstly, paper cups were widely used because they were cheap and convenient. Secondly, items like paper cups, paper packaging, and vinyl items were not collected separately but put into volume-based general waste bags because the amount was small in comparison to other recyclables and they have less monetary value. Thirdly, employees could not dispose the above-said items separately because there were recycling bins only designated for cans, bottles, and plastics. Lastly, the most crucial problem was the fact that employees use their own individual trash can. If daily waste goes into the individual trash can, the waste cannot be sorted, since the waste in trash cans are dumped altogether at once.
Seoul at War against Garbage
No More Individual Trash Can
Individual trash cans were removed from offices. Instead, a set of recycling bins were placed per office or per several offices. The recycling bins now have more categories such as Paper, Paper Cups (Package), Cans/Bottles, PET/Plastic, and Vinyl, so that the recyclables are sorted at the very stage of waste generation.
Tagging General Waste Bags by Department
Furthermore, the general waste bags distributed to each department were printed with a 5-digit serial number. Since the serial number and the department that received the waste bag are recorded together, one can check which department disposed which bag by tracking the serial number. If a department is found to have disposed waste improperly, a notice is sent to them. This way, employees will be more mindful when discarding a piece of garbage, preventing recyclables going into a wrong bin.
Vinyl-only Waste Bags Distributed
Since there has been a lack of awareness about the fact that vinyl material of packaging for things like instant coffee, ramen noodles, snacks, and bakery goods is in fact recyclable, those items used to be disposed with general waste. However, they can be good raw materials for vinyl or SRF (Solid Refuse Fuel) if collected separately, since they are made of petroleum. For this reason, the city government distributed transparent bags for collecting waste vinyl-only to each department and good quality vinyl items have been collected.
Encouraging to Use Re-usable Cups and Educating about Recyclables
The city government encouraged employees to use their own cup and use re-usable cups for guests in order to minimize the usage of disposable paper cups. Also, paper cup collecting cylinder was placed next to vending machines so that paper cups will not be mixed with waste paper. In addition, leaflets on proper disposal of recyclables were distributed for employees to read and understand which items are recyclable and dispose them appropriately.
Monitoring Waste Disposal Status
In order to have the Zero Waste Policy take root as fast as possible and to encourage all employees to participate in separate disposal of waste, the city government designated employees in charge of picking a random general waste bag from the waste repository and open it to see which department did not dispose waste properly and the department receives information about separate waste disposal and is asked to cooperate to prevent recurrence.
Small Change but Huge Financial Reward
Cutting 80% of Cost for Volume-based Waste Bags
The Zero Waste policy showed its magic immediately. Recyclables such as paper cups, paper packages, and vinyl materials that used to be mixed with general waste were now completely segregated and disposed separately. The average number of volume-based waste bags used per day dropped sharply from 80 to 17, resulting in a stunning 80% cut. KRW 47 million was saved annually in waste bag purchase, which meant saving tax and helping preserve environment at the same time – killing two birds with one stone.
Growing Non-tax Revenue
As less waste bags were used, more recyclables were collected. Before implementation of the policy, monthly average weight of recyclables rose from 10 tons to 13 tons. Naturally, the city government sold more recyclables earning more non-tax revenue.