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South Korea’s smart garbage cans know how much waste you toss and charge accordingly

South Korea food waste
Taz / Flickr

Up to 40 percent of the American food supply goes to waste. That amounts to over 20 pounds of food waste per person per month. Organic waste, such as fruits and vegetables, make up the second highest component of landfills in the United States. And this isn’t just a Western problem. South Korea started addressing its own issue with food waste back in 2013, when the country realized that its wasted food was helping increase the insect population after seeping into the soil. In an effort to curb this effect, South Korea’s municipal authorities have implemented high-tech methods to track who’s throwing what away and make them pay, as PSFK reports.

In Seoul, residents must now swipe a card equipped with a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip before gaining access to residential trash cans. The chip contains the user’s name and address and lets the authorities monitor who disposes of what. Previously, everyone paid the same flat rate for waste disposal services. Now, a scale at the bottom of the high-tech trash bins weighs an individual’s waste and charges them a particular disposal fee.

The city has also implemented a “pay by the bag” approach that requires residents to purchase trash bags at an increased cost (for example, a 10-liter bag costs about $1) to encourage sorting and waste reduction. These combined methods have helped Seoul reduce restaurant food waste by 40 percent and household food waste by 30 percent. 

Other countries are also seeking ways to curb food waste. In Europe and Australia, “ugly food” campaigns have encouraged shoppers to buy misshapen but perfectly healthy fruits and vegetables, which are usually disposed of because they don’t meet customers’ standards for shiny apples or perfectly shaped pears. One of France’s largest supermarket chains, Intermarché, even expanded this campaign to cakes and cookies that has visual defects. The trend hasn’t fully caught on in the U.S., but some startups hope to help America’s food waste problem by championing ugly foods.

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