Government Reach vs. Food Waste Economics

South Korea, as it turns out, "enjoys the world’s strictest food waste laws" according to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

"There is a nationwide ban that prohibits food residues from being discarded into landfills and waterways. And now, as one of the world’s most wired countries, the government hopes to utilize its technological supremacy to capture food straight from households and businesses and convert discards into valuable commodities and economic drivers."

From a waste reduction perspective, the approach seems to be working: Eun-kyeong Ko, waste manager at the Korea Environmental Corporation, explains that “The initial implementation resulted in more than 20 percent food waste reduction" and "today in approximately 90 localities nation-wide … food waste was reduced by more than 24 percent compared to last year.” 

Food waste bans are a relatively new trend in the United States, where we waste the highest volume of food per capita globally.  Increased regulation is a tough sell here.  But the case for economic development around food waste might surprise us.

South Korea's national ban and associated food waste fees create revenue and consolidate resources for research and development.  Jang-guk Choi of Reclean Company explained: “Of these 180 tons we receive at this facility alone, approximately 10 percent is turned into animal feed products, or 36 one ton-bags. The sales generated from food waste turned into animal feed are worth approximately US$11,693,520 per month. The facility’s operating cost accounts for approximately US$8,770,140. Forty percent of the food waste treatment cost is supported by the municipal government. The remaining 60 percent is covered through the residents via their RFID payments."

South Korea is pioneering the economics of food waste and based on fast and recent results, their approach is worth consideration.

In considering the South Korea model for the United States, the question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not rapid reduction in both residential and commercial food waste, positive municipal cash flow related to the food waste, and new food waste enterprise and technology are worth extending the reach of government into this part of lives.