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Incheon trashes Greater Seoul’s landfill hopes

Incheon refuses to take in waste from Seoul, Gyeonggi Province after 2025

July 20, 2021 - 14:53 By Kan Hyeong-woo
Sudokwon Landfill in Incheon (Sudokwon Landfill Site Management Corp.)
The Ministry of Environment has once again come up empty-handed in its attempt to find a local government willing to build an alternative landfill to take in waste generated from Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province.

Incheon’s Sudokwon Landfill has been handling garbage from Seoul and Gyeonggi Province since 1992, but the city government announced last year that it would scrap the arrangement after 2025 when the contract expires.

The Environment Ministry first conducted a search for potential candidates to build an alternative landfill for the Greater Seoul area between January and April, but no local governments applied. Another subsequent recruitment from May 10 through July 9 yielded no results either, the ministry said.

Incheon doubted there would be anyone willing to undertake such a mammoth task, even with the ministry’s offer to provide 3.3 trillion won ($2.8 billion) in funding for the construction and operation of the landfill.

“There are no local governments in the Greater Seoul area that would be willing to accommodate the integration of large-scale landfills and other extra facilities such as incinerators, which is not different from the existing Sudokwon Landfill,” Incheon Mayor Park Nam-choon said in remarks made before the Environment Ministry’s second recruitment began in May.

One possible solution is for Seoul and Gyeonggi Province to secure eco-friendly landfills that bury only small amounts of incinerated waste, Park said, citing his own city as a model example.

Over 85 percent of Incheon residents were against taking care of waste not generated in the city, a survey of 1,000 of the city’s residents showed in late June. About 83 percent said renewing the contract will extend their struggles and supported its termination in 2025.

According to the Sudokwon Landfill Site Management Corporation, the Incheon landfill took in 14,000 metric tons of waste a day generated by 64 local governments in the Greater Seoul area in 2019. About 42 percent of the garbage came from Seoul, 37 percent from Gyeonggi Province and 21 percent from Incheon.

Instead of putting up another recruitment notice for an alternative landfill, the Environment Ministry is looking to reduce the amount of trash brought into the Sudokwon Landfill.

Earlier this month, the ministry announced revisions to the Enforcement Decree of the Wastes Control Act that will ban household waste from the Greater Seoul area from being disposed directly into landfills from 2026.

Garbage bags will have to be checked for any recyclables and incinerated before heading to the landfill site. The ministry expects the new rule to decrease the amount of household waste going to landfills by 10 to 20 percent per year.

The ministry also said it is reviewing a plan to put a complete ban on the importation of construction waste from large-scale construction sites. In 2019, at least 1.4 million tons of construction waste were dumped into the Sudokwon Landfill, taking up about 43 percent of all rubbish, according to the landfill operator’s data.

However, the government’s plans do not solve the more severe and immediate problems, environmental civic groups say.

“The measures only have plans to build incinerators for each local government. Nothing is found about reducing waste or recycling,” the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network said in a statement.

“The most important thing is to reduce waste generation. In order to do that, policies have to be strengthened to replace disposable containers with multiuse containers, make products that can be easily recycled and use renewable materials for all products.”

The Korea Federation for Environmental Movements denounced the Environment Ministry, Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon for failing to carry out their 2015 agreement to minimize the usage of Sudokwon Landfill.

According to the federation, the amount of household waste going to Sudokwon Landfill increased by 45 percent between 2015 and 2019.

“The Environment Ministry and three (local governments) should set up practical and tangible measures by expanding disposal facilities on the bases of reuse and recycle and (increasing) the price of garbage bags,” the KFEM said.