Eco-efficient Municipal Waste Management
Planning & Coordination Office, Ulsan Metropolitan Government

The Problem

Ulsan is the seventh-largest metropolis of the Republic of Korea, located in the south-east of the country. Its unprecedented industrial development attracted a massive population increase, from 85,000 in 1962 to more than 1 million currently, which resulted in a drastic increase of household waste generation.

In the Republic of Korea, there is a clear division of roles in waste management between the national and local governments. The national Government is concerned with policy and frameworks, while local governments are responsible for the collection and handling of waste. Waste discharge from industrial companies is handled by those companies.

The residents of Ulsan currently generate a daily average of 10,000 tons of waste. This entails 1,072 tons of municipal waste, 5,151 tons of industrial discharge waste, 3,014 tons of construction waste and 738 tons of designated waste. Korean cities have been predominantly dependent on conventional waste-treatment methods, such as landfill, without fully developing incineration or recycling processes.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The municipality developed a set of policies to improve the eco-efficiency of its waste management, emphasizing reductions in resource use and waste disposal and introducing an integrated management approach to ensure the efficiency of the city system. The major interventions included:

1. Implementing a volume-based waste charging system aimed at reducing the volume of waste generation and disposal by making the generators (residents) pay the waste disposal expenses in accordance with the volume

2. Introducing regulations on the use of disposable products and thus restraining businesses from providing them for free (such as charging for the use of plastic grocery bags in supermarkets)

3. Making recycling mandatory by obliging citizens to separate recyclable waste and further sort it into different categories

4. Introducing innovative waste treatment facilities, allowing for recycling, processing and energy production (such as waste-sorting centres, petrochemical companies and incineration plants)

5. Adopting an integrated approach of municipal waste management that links the major urban sectors, such as industry, transportation and land use and creates a reliable resource-circulation system.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
This initiative is largely driven by the metropolitan government that is responsible for the delivery of municipal solid waste management. The role of the municipality has been instrumental in leading the waste-management process. The generation of municipal waste in Ulsan has steadily decreased since the early 2000s. Yet the budget on municipal waste management has increased by an average annual growth of 10.5 per cent. There are several contributing factors: the change in policy priority to promote better quality of life for all residents, the increase of costs incurred from waste collecting and treatment, and the investment on the modernizing of the facilities and equipment needed for waste management. Given this situation, the participation of the private sector was encouraged to improve the cost savings on waste collection.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Implementing mechanisms were set up that involved both local businesses and residents and that discouraged waste production and stimulated recycling and inter-sector resource circulating. The local government has secured investments for innovative waste-treatment technology that allowed for recycling, produced energy and established a symbiosis with the industrial sector.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Ulsan required a radical change in its waste management practices to counter the growing generation of waste and unsustainable treatment methods. The vexing issue of environmental pollution led to a shift in policy and thinking in the municipality: from a grow-first approach to an eco-efficient paradigm. In a bid to create a city of resource circulation, the municipality introduced environmental considerations into its municipal waste-management process, and it pursued a broader eco-efficiency agenda for urban infrastructure development.

This shift led to the prioritizing of waste reduction measures and recycling practices to replace the unhealthy use of landfill. By taking into account the specific geographical and socio-economic circumstances around the city, the measures were tailor-made for different neighborhoods.

To promote a resource-recycling society, two main policy initiatives were prioritized: First, a volume-based waste charging system was introduced to discourage and reduce waste generation from the source. Second, a “3R” (reduce, reuse and recycle) approach was introduced to improve waste treatment in terms of eco-efficiency.

To prioritize the 3R policy over incinerating and landfill, the Ulsan government established the above policy prioritizing sequence. The policy priorities were further streamlined under the objectives of the Ecopolis Ulsan Plan, which resulted in ten major projects on municipal waste management.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The limited financial capacity causes difficulties for local municipalities to meet the growing demand on a quality of waste management, although the role of the municipality has been regarded instrumental in leading the waste management process.

In fact, the generation of municipal waste in Ulsan has steadily decreased since the early 2000s. Yet the budget on municipal waste management has increased by an average annual growth of 10.5%. There are several contributing factors: the change in policy priority to promote better quality of life for all residents, the increase of costs incurred from waste collecting and treatment, and the investment on the modernizing of the facilities and equipment needed for waste management. Given this situation, the participation of the private sector was encouraged to improve the cost savings on waste management.

Regarding the collection of municipal waste in Ulsan, it is difficult for local municipalities to apply an unified modality to service areas due to the difference of local conditions. The collection method for domestic waste was divided into two modalities: door collecting and spot collecting. Each district in Ulsan has adapted these two municipal waste collection systems selectively, according to the nature of the service area. The core districts exclusively provide door collecting, while the periphery districts depend mainly on spot collecting. The rationale for this binary approach for different districts is that population density is negatively correlated with garbage-collection costs.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The financial resource of local waste management in Ulsan is required not only for the service delivery of waste treatment, but also the establishment of advanced treatment facilities such as incineration plants.

The Ulsan municipal government constructed, in fact, several innovative waste treatment facilities, which now allow for renewable energy production. One of the facilities is a petrochemical company that uses gas from landfill waste. Another facility is an incinerating plant that provides steam from the burning of combustible wastes. The renewable energy from these waste treatment facilities is further channeled into local industries.

Another resource used for the initiative is provided by operational capacity of Ulsan metropolitan city government. The city government implements a variety of specific policy measures on municipal waste management in the following integrated ways.
1. 10% increase of recycled household waste
2. 10% decrease of household waste generation
3. Voluntary agreement with local business on
energy saving measures
4. Expansion of landfill and incinerators at Sung-am
5. Expansion of automatic selection of recycled goods
6. Establishing the second stage promotion plan on
local environment and energy industry
7. Reuse of steam from incinerators
8. Production of biogas from waste
9. Sewage sludge incineration project
10. Eco-industrial Park project

<Key benefits>
The outcomes of the Ulsan metropolitan solid waste management initiative have manifested in several dimensions – environmentally, economically and socially. The share of landfill as the conventional waste-disposal method has decreased considerably while incinerating and recycling have become the primary treatment methods. This has resulted in the reduction of the environmental burden as well as municipal waste-management costs. Additionally, by promoting eco-efficiency, the initiative introduced positive social change by cultivating a psychological shift and behaviour change towards a resource-recycling society.

By 2006, the share of conventional treatment methods had decreased sharply to 18.5 per cent (from 85.6 percent in 1994) for landfill, while recycling practices increased from 23.5 per cent to 58 per cent in 2006 alone. Such an increased share of recycling goods on municipal waste generation is effective in reducing the environmental burden as well as treatment costs. In addition, requiring the separation of recyclable goods by material is not only effective for increasing what is recycled but is important for reducing combustible/non-combustible wastes. As well, 64 per cent of the entire steam generated from incinerating is now used for heating systems and power generation by local industries. Such a development and application of waste heat-recycling practices through incineration has become a benchmark case for symbiosis with the industrial sector in terms of eco-efficient use of municipal waste management.

The total generation of municipal waste has decreased with the stringent enforcement of the recycling policy and waste separation. Although the figures indicate consistency in waste production throughout the entire period of analysis between 1994 (1,017.0 tons per day) and 2006 (1,111.8 tons per day), per capita waste generation has also shown a declining tendency (from 1.10 tons per day to 0.99 tons per day) during the same period, indicating that even with the population increases, reductions continued consistently.

Regarding the collection of municipal waste, there are few changes in terms of the quality of service delivery. Local districts are increasingly using the private sector to collect waste. Although there is no significant change in the number of personnel charging for waste collection in recent years, the quality of services and related facilities in the private sector has improved.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
It is suggested that this initiative resulted in positive change in the city’s development paradigm. The initiative helps the transformation from a city confronted with environmental pollution and unbalanced growth to a successful benchmarking case in terms of eco-efficient use of municipal waste management. Ulsan is now further strengthening international cooperation in the environmental field to maintain its position as a world-class eco-industrial city.

In this regard, the replication of Ulsan’s experience on waste management can be realized if a city puts higher priority on 3 R approach (reduce, reuse and recycle) and the public-private- partnership for effective municipal waste management. As matter of fact, the Ulsan waste management system relies on public-private environmental governance, which involves joint participation of the city government, residents and local businesses. This broad participation of parties ensures that the project is not limited to just the technical executing of eco-efficient measures but that it also allows for positive social change towards a resource-recycling society and thus environmental sustainability.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
There are a few factors contributing to the effective management of municipal waste generation in Ulsan. First, as in other Korean cities, Ulsan implemented the volume-based waste charging system in 1995, which contributed to the rapid decrease of household waste (26.5 per cent during the first two years). However, the volume-based charging system proved to be effective only in the first few years. Hence the necessary policy priority is shifted to the 3R approach (reduce, reuse and recycle), which is now regarded by the municipality as the most effective policy response for realizing eco-efficient outcomes.

Another lesson learned is that there should be an integrated approach to municipal waste management. Integration links the major urban sectors, such as industry, transportation and land use, for the purpose of circulating resources at the local level, which ultimately proves cost-effective. In many Asian cities, selecting a location for waste-treatment facilities, such as a landfill site or incinerator, is based on factors such as land costs and expansion capacity. But including factors such as transportation costs and reuse capacity can make another location more appealing in terms of the overall costs. Thus it is important for a municipality to consider various issues when selecting treatment sites.

Population density is widely perceived as negatively correlated with waste-collection costs. An empirical study on municipal garbage collection conducted by the Ministry of Environment in 2008 found that less-populated regions are not cost-effective with their waste collection compared with highly populated regions, such as the urban centres. Thus the peripheries of Ulsan now place higher priority on reducing local waste and have constructed small-sized waste treatment facilities. This approach is effective in how it has reduced the number of trips (and distances) to collect local waste, leading to increased economic value (reduced transportation costs) and reduced environmental load (greenhouse gas emission from the transportation process). In Ulsan, a crucial point has been the strong link between the spatial expansion of newly built-up areas and the generation of household waste. This suggests that the measures need to be based on the changes in local socio-economic and geographical factors.

In sum, the case of Ulsan spotlights the eco-efficiency of municipal waste-management in terms of policy priority as well as cost saving. From this perspective, municipalities should prioritize measures to reduce waste generation because they significantly reduce environmental impact and costs.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Planning & Coordination Office, Ulsan Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Youngjoon Seo
Title:   Assistant Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   82-52-229-2140
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   201, Jungang-ro
Postal Code:   680-701
City:   Nam-gu
State/Province:   Ulsan Metropolitan City

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