Success Stories

Waste Management in Republic of Korea

Waste management and recycling in the Republic of Korea’s has not reduced waste generation, but has also encouraged reusing waste as an energy resource. Over the past years, targeted policies have significantly increased the recycling rate while creating thousands of jobs in an endeavour to build a Resource Recirculation Society.

The Korean government’s “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) system requires manufacturers and importers to recycle a certain amount of their products. The financial benefit of recycling 6.067 million tons of waste in the five years since the implementation of EPR in 2003 is estimated to be over US $1.6 billion. In 2008, a total of 69,213 tons of plastic products were recycled, yielding an economic benefit of approximately $69 million. Furthermore, in a period of four years (2003-2006) the EPR system created 3,200 new jobs.1

The environmental benefits of EPR are equally remarkable. By recycling the items subject to the EPR policy instead of land filling or incinerating, CO2 emissions have been reduced annually by an average of 412,000 tons. Moreover, it is estimated that as a result of these efforts, approximately 23,532 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) from plastic landfill or incineration were prevented.

Although the country’s waste volume has gradually risen since 2000, the percentage of total waste volume recycled has also significantly increased. For example, in 1995, 72.3 per cent of municipal solid wastes were land filled and 23.7 per cent were recycled, whereas in 2007, 57.8 per cent were recycled and 23.6 per cent were land filled. Furthermore, in 2007, 81.1 per cent of the total waste was recycled.

This reduction in waste land filling has opened the door for new businesses. Korea’s Landfill Gas Recovery Project is a major Clean Development Mechanism project, with a capacity of 50 MWh and a production of 363,259 MWh in 2009. This Metropolitan Landfill Power Plant already reduced CO2 emission by 0.4 million tons between April and November 2007. It is expected to further reduce a total of 7 million tons of CO2 between April 2007 and April 2017. During the same ten-year period, the plant is also expected to save Korea $126 million. The plant also allowed Korea to reduce its oil imports by 530 thousand barrels in 2009.


  1. 1. Ministry of Environment, Republic of Korea, Extended Producer Responsibility, Available at: http://eng.me.go.kr/content.do?method=moveContent&menuCode=pol_rec_pol_rec_sys_responsibility