Chung Sun-hee finely crushes eggshells, dries and saves her coffee grounds, and separates large vegetable offcuts into smaller pieces. Later, the 55-year-old professional translator will bury them in her backyard, in rotating plots of earth that are given ample time to compost before being replenished. She will plant tomatoes, basil and corn in the resulting soil.
She has a raft of little tricks to make it all work: In the summer, for example, her husband dices up the rinds of every watermelon he eats in order to make the composting process faster. “When we lived in an apartment, I would throw away all my food waste into the shared collection containers,” Chung said. “But now, I compost almost all of it.”
Chung is one of a growing number of city dwellers who are getting into urban farming, not just to grow their own vegetables, but also as an exercise in waste reduction. “Reducing food waste and the urban farming movement are very closely linked,” said Chung, who completed a government-sponsored course five years ago.
Her new habits reflect a larger change underway in South Korea’s densely populated capital, where grassroots movements and government campaigns have dramatically transformed how people dispose of their leftover food.
Once a city where unsightly and foul-smelling landfills loomed over entire neighborhoods, Seoul now operates one of the most rigorous food waste recycling programs in the world. The results have been impressive.
The South Korean government banned sending food to landfills in 2005 and, in 2013, also prohibited the dumping of garbage juice (leftover water squeezed from food waste) into the sea. Today, a staggering 95 percent of food waste is recycled â€• a remarkable leap from less than 2 percent in 1995. Seoul has managed to cut the amount of food waste produced by 400 metric tons per day.
Walk along any residential street in Seoul and you’ll see why. On Chung’s street, residents emerge at dusk to deposit small yellow bags into designated waste collection buckets.
Since 2013, South Koreans have been required by law to discard food waste in these biodegradable bags, priced according to volume and costing the average four-person family about $6 a month. By purchasing them from the local convenience store or supermarket, residents are effectively paying a tax on their food waste upfront. In Seoul, this tax pays for roughly 60 percent of the cost of collecting and processing the city’s food waste, according to government data.
MAX S. KIM
Seoul residents put their waste into yellow recycling bags, which they buy from supermarkets and local stores.
It’s simple but brilliant: Not only does it offer incentives for you to reduce waste, it makes you confront it. “It made me cut down on the food I threw away a lot,” Chung said. “Not only for economic reasons, but visually it makes you aware of how much waste you’re producing.”
This pay-as-you-waste scheme was born out of necessity. “Unlike countries where meals are one-plate dishes, South Korean food culture is centered around banchan [a variety of side dishes that accompany meals], which creates a lot of leftover food,” said Kim Mi-hwa, chair of the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network. In the late 1990s, increased standards of living, a growing appetite for dining out and the rise of one-person households fueled a steady increase in food waste. In major urban areas like Seoul, landfills had already reached a tipping point.
“The waste just wasn’t decreasing, so we campaigned the government by telling them that we’d need a radical solution,” said Kim, one of the earliest advocates of the pay-as-you-waste scheme. “Not only does South Korea have small land mass, but growing public awareness about the environment made it impossible to just add more landfills or processing plants.”
South Korean food is centered around side dishes called banchan, which rarely all get eaten.
Some districts in Seoul use a more high-tech variant for apartment complexes, which has seen even better results. In large metal waste receptacles outfitted with measuring scales and a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip reader, residents can deposit their waste directly, bag-free. The machine calculates the fee by weighing the amount, and residents pay by swiping a card in front of the scanner.
“Over the last six years, we reduced a total of about 47,000 tons of food waste [with the RFID machines],” said Lee Kang-soo, head of the local government-run food recycling program in Seoul’s Songpa District. “We assume it’s because people want to pay less money, since the cost increases with the weight.”
The chief benefit of the RFID machine is that it encourages residents to remove any moisture â€• which accounts for about 80 percent of food waste â€• before tossing it in the machine, saving on collection costs. In Songpa District alone, according to Lee, the machines have saved 9.6 billion won (about $8.4 million) in logistical expenses.
Seoul is in the process of making sure all food waste eventually becomes a resource, such as fertilizer for growing food. The city handles about 60 percent of the food waste, while private contractors pick up the rest. Once collected, the waste is shipped off to processing plants, where the yellow bags are stripped off and the food slurry is squeezed to remove any liquids. A giant churn picks out any hard foreign objects, such as errant utensils, before the sludge is heat-treated and pulverized.
The resulting powder is converted into either animal feed or fertilizer. Meanwhile, the liquid squeezed from the waste is fermented into biogas or bio-oil, which can be used as fuel for boilers and other industrial appliances.
MAX S. KIM
These card-operated machines charge people by weight for their food waste.
Tapping into an urban farming boom, the city has recently announced plans to furnish a number of apartment complexes with large-scale food waste processors to create fertilizer for their gardens.
“I think there needs to be a perception that discarded food isn’t ‘garbage,’ but simply food that we couldn’t finish,” Lee said. “Only with this attitude can these ‘resource-ification’ policies work.”
Despite the program’s success, the need to continue reducing food waste remains stark. Seoul’s food waste processing centers have recently reported large amounts of dry fertilizer stacking up unused â€• an indication that there is still too much waste being created.
While the government has announced legislation to qualify food waste fertilizer as organic in order to expand its uses, experts, government officials and activists alike stress the need for more fundamental measures that reduce food waste at the source.
“There’s a limit to how much food waste fertilizer can actually be used,” Kim said. “This means there has to be a change in our dining habits, such as shifting to a one-plate culinary culture like other countries, or at least reducing the amount of banchan that we lay out.”
For more content and to be part of the “This New World” community, follow our Facebook page.
HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
FILM Screening: ArtiFISHal plus Native Storytelling, and Panel Discussion
August 22 @ Medford Library Large Community Room
Doors Open at 5:30 pm, Programming starts at 6 pm.
The Rogue Valley Food System Network invites you to join us for an evening about the story of the salmon, from the original people to the current day issues.
We will begin the evening with an honoring of the Salmon people, and the role the Salmon has played as a part of this valley since the beginning of time.
Each year the Takelmas honor the salmon with a sacred ceremony at Ti’lomikh along the Rogue River. Storyteller Thomas Doty will share stories of the Salmon People, and the relationship the Old Ones formed with them thousands of years ago. Thomas Doty will share with us the story of the Salmon.
We will then come together to watch the film, Artifishal.
Produced by Patagonia, Artifishal is a film about wild rivers and wild fish that explores the high cost — ecological, financial and cultural — of our mistaken belief that engineered solutions can make up for habitat destruction. The film traces the impact of fish hatcheries, and the extraordinary amount of public money wasted on an industry that hinders wild fish recovery pollutes our rivers and contributes to the problem it claims to solve. Artifishal also dives beneath the surface of the open-water fish farm controversy, as citizens work to stop the damage done to public waters and our remaining wild salmon.
From a food systems perspective, we are interested in hosting an open dialogue that leaves the consumer with the knowledge to make their own choices about what they want to support with their daily food choices.
Our next Sustainable Rogue Valley meeting on Sunday Dec. 4 features guest speaker Gif Gates, Manager of Raptor Creek Farm.
Gif will share about the farm and the Josephine County Food Bank’s vision and strategy for long term food security. Come hear about the history of Raptor Creek Farm, their clients and the statistics of food insecurity in Jo Co, the youth and senior programs at the farm, current development and future projects, community involvement at the food bank farm, how folks can get involved, and more!
Due to the holidays, our next Sustainable Rogue Valley meeting will be on Sunday December 4 (not our usual 4th Sunday schedule)
We now meet at the new UU church, 129 NW E street, GP, 12:30 to 2pm.
It’s easy to find, across the street from Mamosa’s!
Over the past few years, “Fruit Tree Projects” have been popping up all over the world, from Vancouver and Portland, to New Orleans, to Fiji and Australia and beyond. They start small, with just one or two proactive individuals who are pained by the sight of perfectly good fruit in the late stages of decomposition.
Some Fruit Tree Projects redistribute their fruit harvests to undernourished communities, while others gobble them up themselves, and many celebrate the harvest by getting together and processing large quantities of fruit into any number of delicacies.
Even with the variations in types of Fruit Projects out there, one basic truth remains the same: the only thing standing between a hungry belly and the world’s excess fruit supply is a knock on a neighbor’s door.
For Steve Schnaar, (whose childhood memories include picking apples with his family), knocking on doors to inquire about overladen fruit trees was a hobby that soon blossomed into the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project, now in its third year in Santa Cruz, California.
“I have a long history of knocking on people’s doors and saying ‘it looks like you have more apples than you can handle,’ or cherries, or whatever it may be, and it’s usually true—most people with a big tree aren’t using it all, or are happy to share,” says Schnaar.
“Sure, a lot of people are intimidated to knock on strangers’ doors … but I don’t have that problem. People can say no if they want to say no.”
The success rate is surprisingly high, especially because most people—especially if they live alone—can’t eat all of the fruit produced by a single tree, and Schnaar estimates about nine out of 10 people say yes to sharing their excess.
Do-it-yourself fruit processing is at the heart of The Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project, and the community that’s been growing out of it. Most harvests are followed by a gathering that teaches how to preserve the fruit they harvest—from drying persimmons using the traditional Japanese method Hoshigaki, to fermenting the fruit into wine with local DIY winemakers. They’ve also hosted apple cider pressing parties (with a bike-powered press, of course), made vinegar and countless preserves, from marmalades to chutneys. And when there’s still too much fruit to go around, or the fruit is a little bit too mushy to give away, the chef of local restaurant India Joze often finds a culinary use for it.
The post-harvest events bring together growers, community members, and local food experts, and they’re a birthplace for lasting relationships and useful skills promoting a sustainable culture.
Schnaar’s project would have fizzled out had it not been for his devotion to it, and the whole-hearted embrace it has received from the community. Most of the fruit hosts have welcomed him and his fruit harvesters back each year, and the word is spreading. Harvests that used to see only a handful of people are now numbering dozens to even 40 or 50 people.
Read this article in its entirety, including an interview with Steve Schnaar at Shareable.
Why the rise of green energy makes utility companies nervous.
From the June 2015 New Yorker Magazine article by Bill McKibben
Mark and Sara Borkowski live with their two young daughters in a century-old, fifteen-hundred-square-foot house in Rutland, Vermont. Mark drives a school bus, and Sara works as a special-ed teacher; the cost of heating and cooling their house through the year consumes a large fraction of their combined income. Last summer, however, persuaded by Green Mountain Power, the main electric utility in Vermont, the Borkowskis decided to give their home an energy makeover. In the course of several days, coördinated teams of contractors stuffed the house with new insulation, put in a heat pump for the hot water, and installed two air-source heat pumps to warm the home. They also switched all the light bulbs to L.E.D.s and put a small solar array on the slate roof of the garage.
The Borkowskis paid for the improvements, but the utility financed the charges through their electric bill, which fell the very first month. Before the makeover, from October of 2013 to January of 2014, the Borkowskis used thirty-four hundred and eleven kilowatt-hours of electricity and three hundred and twenty-five gallons of fuel oil. From October of 2014 to January of 2015, they used twenty-eight hundred and fifty-six kilowatt-hours of electricity and no oil at all. President Obama has announced that by 2025 he wants the United States to reduce its total carbon footprint by up to twenty-eight per cent of 2005 levels. The Borkowskis reduced the footprint of their house by eighty-eight per cent in a matter of days, and at no net cost.