As much as 95 per cent of food waste in South Korea is now recycled thanks to government legislation that charges citizens for the amount they throw out. Is this the sort of innovative policy we should be considering in Australia?
Sending food to landfill was first banned by the South Korean government in 2005. This was followed up with a clever law that came into effect in 2013 that mandated the use of special biodegradable bags for discarding waste.
Priced according to volume, the bags set the average four-person family back around US$6 a month.
Some apartment complexes have managed to do away with the bags as well by using waste collection machines that allow people to measure their waste and pay by weight by scanning an identification card on the front of the machine.
The machines have been successful in encouraging people to remove moisture from their waste, which has saved the government a lot of money on logistics.
At the other end, the government is trying to ensure all waste turns into something useful, such as fertiliser to grow more food.
So how are we using policy to manage post-plate food waste in Australia?
There’s no “silver bullet” to managing the food waste problem, according to MRA Consulting Group principal consultant – organics, Virginia Brunton. She said there’s no single fix that can be applied to every jurisdiction.
“For example, Wales has some very good programs, but their cities do not have as many high rise apartments as we do in Sydney,” she told The Fifth Estate.
Unlike in South Korea, Australia doesn’t have a universal ban on organic waste in landfill. These bans are also common in other parts of the world, including Europe where there’s the EU Landfill Directive.
These policies encourage the recycling of organics waste rather than sending it to landfill, she said.
The price on landfill in another policy mechanism to curb food waste.
It costs around $300 a tonne to dispose of waste in a landfill close to Sydney, Ms Brunton said, and less in regional areas.
There’s FOGO (food and garden organics collection services) in councils in Adelaide, Melbourne and many regional councils, with Perth coming on soon. These services allow people to put food waste into the garden waste bin for collection and processing into compost.
“FOGO or in some cases just food waste collection services are the most efficient way of diverting high tonnes of organics from landfill.”
She says other mechanisms such as home composting are great but cannot really cope with large volumes.
One emerging technology that may change the game are facilities that can extract the food component from the general waste.
“With technology improving all the time, this may in the future be good enough for the EPA’s in Australia to allow this material to be composted and used on land, but at the moment it is not permitted.”
Food waste contributes 8 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions
Waste across the entire food supply chain is a huge contributor to climate change. As much as 30 per cent of food is wasted globally, contributing 8 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
Although a lot of this waste is created before it ends up on someone’s plate, Ms Brunton said that what happens to food waste in landfill is the “critical element to get fixed”.
Part of the problem is that rotting food in landfill produces methane, which is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. According to Ms Brunton, for every tonne of food waste in landfill, a tonne of CO2-e greenhouse gas is generated.
This makes a huge contribution to Australia’s overall GHG emissions. Sydney alone generates around 250,000 tonne of food waste each year, and at the moment, all but 45,000 tonnes is going to landfill.