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[New Series] How much do you know about Jeju waste disposal?
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승인 2012.03.09  14:36:04
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This is the first in a series of articles by staff reporter Angela Kim on the state of garbage collection, disposal, and recycling in Jeju. — Ed.

With Jeju earning a UNESCO-affiliated “Triple Crown” title for designation as a Biosphere Reserve (2002), a World Natural Heritage (2007), and becoming part of the Global Geopark Network (2010), most people think of Jeju as free of pollution. However, with the island’s population nearing 600,000 and roughly 10,000 travelers arriving each day, Jeju generates more garbage than the national average.

According to government statistics, the national average for waste generated daily by a single person is 1.04 kilograms. Jeju has a slightly higher average of 1.07 kilograms per person.

The amount of domestic waste Jeju produces per day has gradually increased from 580 tons in 2006 to 649 tons in 2010 (not including the roughly 195 tons of food waste collected each day). There are over 400 full-time sanitation workers.

As some early birds may have noticed, starting at 6 a.m. garbage trucks pick up sorted waste from designated collection areas (called “Clean Houses”) set up in neighborhoods around the island. Combustible waste is sent directly to incineration plants (accounting for 28 percent of total waste yearly) and incombustible waste (19.1 percent of the total) to one of the island’s 10 landfills. The Jeju government used to dump waste at sea, but stopped this practice in 2006.

There are five landfills each in Seogwipo and Jeju cities. Jeju landfills take up 323,509 square meters and have a capacity of 2.6 million cubic meters of waste. At present, the island’s landfills are 84 percent full.

Recyclable waste is dropped off at sorting facilities where eight categories of materials like paper, scrap metal, iron, plastics, glass bottles, and Styrofoam are sorted then sold to recycling companies on the island for profit. Last year, the provincial government reported about 52 percent of all domestic waste was recycled.

Some 95 percent of food waste is recycled. The rest is incinerated. Annually, Jeju City’s Food Waste Resource Recovery Center processes 4,300 tons of food waste and turns it into 4,775 tons of fertilizer, which is then sold back to the public.

However, due to a lack of infrastructure, most medical waste, asbestos, and engine oil are currently taken to the mainland for processing. About 564 tons of medical waste and asbestos from Jeju are processed on the mainland every year.

“Regardless of some issues, I believe Jeju’s waste processing system is substantially better compared to others,” said Chief Officer Kim Soo Byung for Jeju City’s Living Environmental Division. “The ‘Clean House’ [system] is a very advanced sanitation facility. It helps Jeju residents be aware and comply.”

Since 2006, the provincial government has invested 21.6 billion won (US$19.3 million) to install 1,406 Clean Houses on the island. Each unit costs about 15 million won to install and approximately 500,000 won for maintenance a year. Clean Houses are equipped with roofs, garbage bins, surveillance cameras, and lighting. Kim said they have also saved the city money by reducing labor costs.

The program, however, is encountering problems at the grassroots level, with a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude regarding the sight, smell, and noise associated with Clean Houses on local streets. Additionally, the Clean House system is only effective if citizens play an active role in recycling and garbage disposal.

Jang Yeong Jin, an officer within the Environmental Policy Division of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, emphasized the role of citizens.

“If residents don’t sort their garbage accordingly at the Clean House, the process is greatly slowed down,” Jang said, adding this results in sanitation workers not being able to keep garbage and recyclables separate.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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