90% : The amount of discarded food - South Korea - processes into fertiliser, fuel or animal feed. That's Food waste made good. South Korea's program for disposing of leftovers is the envy of the world.

At Jongo Stew Village, a popular lunch spot in the Debong district of northern Seoul, pollock stew and kimchi jjigae are the best sellers. But no matter the order, Lee Hae-yeon, the owner, serves small side dishes of kimchi, tofu, boiled bean sprouts and marinated perilla leaves.

Customers can help themselves to more, and  ''people are going to take more than they're going to eat, '' Me. Lee said. '' Koreans like to err on the side of abundance, when it comes to food.''

Mr. Lee pays a price for that : about 2,800 won, a little over $2, for about every 20 liters [ five gallons ] of food he throws out.

AROUND  the world -most of the 1.4 billion tons of food thrown away each year goes to landfills. As it rots, it pollutes water and soil and releases huge amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

BUT not in South Korea, which banned food scraps from its landfills almost 20 years ago. Here, the vast majority of it gets turned into animal feed, fertilizer and fuel for heating homes.

Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, not only because of the methane but also because the energy and resources that went into its production and transport have been wasted, too.

The system in South Korea, which keeps about 90 percent of discarded food out of landfills and incinerators, has been studied by governments around the world. Officials from China, Denmark and elsewhere have toured South Korea's facilities.

New York City, which will require all residents to separate their food waste from other trash by next fall, has been observing the Korean system for years, a spokesman for the city's sanitation department said.

While a number of cities have comparable programs, few if any other countries do what South Korea does on a national scale. That is because of the cost, said Paul West, a senior scientist with Project Drawdown, a research group that studies ways to reduce carbon emissions.

Although individuals and businesses pay a small fee to discard food waste, the program costs South Korea about $600 million a year, according to the country's Ministry of Environment.

Nonetheless, Mr. West and other experts say it should be emulated. ''The South Korea example makes it possible to reduce emissions at a larger scale,'' he said.

South Korea's culinary tradition tends to result in uneaten food. Small side dishes - sometimes a few, sometimes more than a dozen - accompany most meals. For years, practically all those leftovers went into the ground.

But the country's mountainous terrain limits the number of landfills that can be built, and their distance from residential areas. In 1995, the government introduced mandatory recycling of paper and plastic, but food scraps continued to be buried along with other trash.

Political support for changing that was driven by people living near landfills, who complained about the smells, said Kee-Young Yoo, a researcher at the government-run Seoul Institute who has advised cities on handling food waste.

Because stews are staple of Korean cuisine, discarded food tends to have a high water content, which means greater volume and worse odors.

'' When all that went to waste, it emitted a terrible stench,'' Mr. Yoo said.

Since 2005, it's been illegal to send food waste to landfills. Local governments have built hundreds of facilities for processing it.

Consumers, restaurant owners, truck drivers and others are part of the network that gets it collected and turned into something useful.

The World Students Society thanks author John Yoon.


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