Trash Tech: Should Americans Be “Taxed” for Food Waste? *

Posted on April 14, 2012


With $43 billion of food wasted in the U.S. each year ($590 of food wasted per family), it may be time to start the same type of country-wide food waste “tax” that will be launching in Korea this year. Using RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, Korean utility companies have created an ingenious high-tech system that can charge variable rate fees depending on the weight of the food waste collected in each resident’s containers.

This revision will be relatively easy to implement because city dwellers within Seoul, Korea already separate out food waste into special containers. Utilizing disposal bags that are tagged with RFIDs will allow the utility companies to link the user’s residence, phone number and account information to the amount (weight) of the food waste being disposed during each collection period. Thus, billing becomes flexible: those users who waste more food will pay higher fees: a “Pay-As-You-Throw” (PAYT) system.

The Korean government’s goal is to reduce food waste by 20% in 2013 which would:

  • save $144M in food waste processing costs;
  • save $4.4B of consumer food costs that wouldn’t be purchased and disposed (because consumers would tend to buy what they need); and
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would be the equivalent of removing over 243,000 cars from use each year.

Smaller cities such as Gimcheon have already piloted the program and have been able to reduce their food waste by 30%. A pilot program will launch in Seoul this year before the new system is implemented for the entire country by 2013.

There is already a growing movement of PAYT systems throughout the United States. Eighteen states have implemented PAYT waste management programs with 26% of all communities participating and benefiting from:

  • Environmental sustainability: All cities have reported reductions in waste and an increase in recycling;
  • Economic Sustainability: residents are empowered to take charge of their waste management expenses rather than relying on municipalities to do so:
  • Equity: Because residents pay only for what they throw away, those households that recycle and prevent waste no longer subsidize their neighbors’ wastefulness.

Yet the #1 strategy for reducing waste and fostering a greener planet would be to eat less and buy less. Would you support a “Food Waste Tax” or Pay-As-You-Throw pricing?

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© 2012 by Ed Valdez. All rights reserved.

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* Article first published on Technorati as “Trash Tech: Should Americans Be ‘Taxed’ for Food Waste?”

Posted in: Eco Leader