Authors: Dong-Young Kim, Yongjin Lee
Decades of rapid economic growth in the Republic of Korea, beginning in the 1960s, led to the side effect of a severe waste problem by the early 1990s. With economic growth and urbanization, consumption increased significantly in urban areas, resulting in a commensurate increase in household waste. While waste generation was increasing, the recycling rate was below 10 percent prior to 1993, despite years of government interventions. Without meaningful efforts to reduce waste or offset its increase via recycling, most waste ended up in landfills and waste incinerators, and as the amount of household waste continued to grow, the capacity of landfills for urban waste shrank. Furthermore, a 1987 government proposal to construct additional landfills and incinerators across the country was faced with resistance from residents near proposed sites, concerned citizens, and environmental groups. It was clear that a new solution would be necessary.
The development challenge for the Korean government was designing and implementing an effective and sustainable waste management program. While solid waste management is a universal issue, countries that experience economic development are usually met with an evolving waste management situation, with an increase in consumption and consequently per capita generation of waste. This is often complicated by rapid urbanization that puts pressure on existing waste management capacities. Intervention The Korean government introduced the Volume-based Waste Fee (VWF) policy, among others, in order to reduce waste by increasing the rate of recycling. Before 1990, the primary concern for local governments was enhancing waste disposal capacities for waste generated in their jurisdictions. With the everincreasing volumes of waste, coupled with environmental concerns that limited the expansion of waste treatment facilities, governments had to turn instead to minimizing waste. In other words, it was necessary to make the shift from a paradigm of maximum treatment to one of minimum waste generation.
This case study (prepared by Dong-Young Kim) and delivery note (adapted by Yongjin Lee from the original case study) examines how this shift occured.