In September 1997, Korea’s Ministry of Environment (MOE) formulated a policy to treat incineration ash from Municipal Waste Incinerators (MWIs) with a capacity of over 50 tons of waste per day. According to the government’s new policy, fly ash containing toxic substances was to be treated only in hazardous waste landfill sites following strict treatment procedures. Bottom ash known to be environmentally safe was to be disposed of directly in municipal landfill sites. However, test results of bottom ash from five MWIs in the metropolitan area showed that bottom ash contained heavy metals like lead (Pb) in excess of the hazardous waste standards. In November 1998, the authorities from the Seoul Metropolitan Area municipal landfill sites banned all bottom ash from being disposed of in their landfill sites. Without a government plan, budget or treatment technologies, huge amounts of bottom ash began to pile up in the yards of the Seoul Metropolitan Area’s MWIs. The ROKG, concerned about the growing severity of the nation’s environmental problems, has been seeking appropriate ways to treat bottom ash. The government is studying the practices and technologies of foreign countries including the U.S. to find the best solutions to disposal of incineration ash. All MWIs in operation and under construction require additional facilities to treat incineration ash. Industrial sources say that it will cost as much as building an incinerator to install new treatment facilities in an MWI which is stoker type previously provided by Japanese and European firms. Japanese firms have not yet provided cost-effective technologies to treat incineration ash, even though they occupy around 50 percent of Korea’s waste incinerator market. The government cannot plan and establish a new budget for incineration ash because none of the ash treatment technologies introduced in Korea so far have been proven to be environmentally safe or cost-effective, and, therefore, the ROKG is desperately in need of solutions to incineration ash problems.
In June 1997, the ROKG established a policy to manage and control MWIs and announced standards for dioxin emissions that raised national concern about environmental problems. In September, the government formulated a policy to control incineration ash generated by MWIs. According to this policy, fly ash known to be toxic waste was to be separated from bottom ash at the MWI and disposed of at a hazardous waste landfill site. All MWIs in operation or under construction had to install new facilities for sorting out and storing fly ash by the end of 1997. The MOE also requested that the local governments include new technologies, like melting processes or solidification, if necessary, in their plans for treating fly ash. The MOE had the Korean National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) include the development of new technologies for treating fly ash in the country’s "G7 Project", a government-initiated project for developing advanced environmental technologies equivalent to those found in G7 countries.
However, as a result of Korea’s economic crisis erupting in late 1997, the government’s new policy did not go into effect. The plans for treating incineration ash no longer remained a priority. Accordingly, the government could not appropriate enough funding for MWIs to install new facilities for sorting fly ash from bottom ash and treating it. Fly ash known to be hazardous was mixed with bottom ash and disposed of directly in the municipal landfill sites.
In November 1998, environmental authorities of Seoul Metropolitan Area’s municipal landfill sites tested bottom ash coming from five MWIs (in Mokdong, Sanggye, Ilsan, Joongdong, and Pyongchon) in the capital region. The test results showed that the bottom ash from four sites contained lead (Pb) in excess of the standard for hazardous waste, 3 mg/l. It was found that waste such as batteries, toys and paint was the main source of heavy metals in bottom ash. Environmental authorities of those landfill sites immediately banned bottom ash from being thrown into metropolitan area landfill sites.
As the bottom ash from Seoul Metropolitan Area’s MWIs began to emerge as a major environmental threat, MOE officially requested that NIER conduct leaching tests of bottom ash. In January 1999, the results of the NIER’s test of bottom ash from five MWIs in the Seoul Metropolitan Area again showed that bottom ash from all five MWIs exceeded standards for hazardous waste.
At present, fly ash categorized as hazardous waste is treated at the Environmental Management Corporation’s (EMC) hazardous waste landfill site located in Onsan in the southern part of Korea. As there is no hazardous waste landfill site in the Seoul metropolitan area, the costs to treat and transport fly ash to the Onsan landfill site are becoming prohibitive. Only Haewoondae MWI in Pusan, the second largest city in Korea, is equipped with new treatment facilities and is controlling fly ash separately in compliance with the government’s policy.
The authorities of Seoul metropolitan area landfill sites still ban bottom ash that contains heavy metals in excess of the legal standards. Since November 1998, bottom ash has been piling up in the yards of the Seoul metropolitan area’s four MWIs, and there is no solution yet in sight. A total of 11,000 tons of bottom ash have piled up in the yards of four MWIs: 1,000 tons in Mokdong, 4,000 tons in Sanggye, 3,000 tons in Joongdong, and 3,000 tons in Ilsan. Sungnam MWI is burying bottom ash at its own landfill site. Bottom ash from Anyang MWI is treated by a recycling company.
The accumulating bottom ash at these four MWIs impedes normal operation. Sorting out fly ash from bottom ash and transporting the ash to far-away Onsan increases operating costs significantly. Bottom ash piling up in the yards of MWIs is threatening the environment and arousing residents’ concern. It is hard to tell if the other MWIs outside Seoul are free from incineration ash problems because they are operating under the same conditions as the MWIs in Seoul. The NIER tested incineration ash from local MWIs and results indicated high levels of heavy metals. If further tests of the bottom ash from these local MWIs are found harmful in terms of legal standards, public reaction will become even more critical.
In 1998, Korea’s nine MWIs, with a total capacity of 2,900 tons per day, treated 674,445 tons of waste. A total of 109,128 tons of ash were generated by these nine MWIs, recording 2,756 tons of fly ash and 106,402 tons of bottom ash. An average of 16.2 percent of total waste incinerated at each MWI became ash. Bottom ash accounted for 97.5 percent out of the total ash produced by the MWIs.
As it is aiming to increase the nation’s incineration rate to 20 percent by 2001 and 30 percent by 2005, the ROKG is desperately in need of solutions to the problem of incineration ash. The expert meeting called by the MOE last April did not produce any satisfactory solutions. Current efforts by the MOE are essentially to stabilize the bottom ash and recycle it. To these ends, the government is studying the experiences of foreign countries like the U.S., Japan and EU.
In Japan and Switzerland, bottom ash is disposed of directly in municipal landfill sites without leaching tests because they properly sort out wastes before incineration. However, these practices cannot be applied in Korea because bottom ash containing heavy metals will cause environmental degradation in landfill sites. In the U.S., as in Korea, only bottom ash passing the leaching tests can be disposed of directly in municipal landfill sites.
The ROKG has been seeking to employ environmentally safe and efficient methods like solidification or melting process to reduce treatment costs and improve the recycling of waste. Currently, most MWIs in operation or under construction in Korea are stoker types, which need additional equipment or facilities to treat incineration ash. Adding those facilities will require huge investments. The MOE is paying close attention to the first solidification technology being applied at the Suwon MWI, which is being constructed by Samsung Heavy Industries Co., Ltd., a licensee of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. However, the MOE is not yet sure about the efficiency and safety of this solidification technology.
At the end of this year, the Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to announce a new project for Songpa MWI with the capacity of 500 tons per day. This new project will cost 135 billion Won (around 1.14 billion USD) and employ melting process to treat incineration ash.
Some Korean companies like Samsung Heavy Industries Co., Ltd., Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Ltd., and Taibaik Environment Co., Ltd. have been developing technologies to treat incineration ash. In the case of Samsung Heavy Industries, the company applied low-tech Russian methods in order to commercialize ash treatment technologies at lower costs.
Korea’s market for municipal waste incineration facilities is a major "best prospect" in the environmental industry. Most MWIs are stoker types provided by Japanese or European companies. The stoker type MWI requires additional facilities to treat incineration ash, but Japanese technologies are quite expensive. The ROKG is seeking the most efficient and cost-effective technologies for treating incineration ash. As U.S. ash solidification, glassification, and vitrification technologies is well advanced, U.S. companies have a great opportunity to enter this expanding market.
CS Korea advises U.S. environmental firms interested in the Korean market to utilize the programs and services of the Commercial Service Korea/U.S.-Asia Environmental Partnership (U.S.-AEP)/Korea to investigate potential opportunities. The following contacts may be useful to U.S. companies in obtaining further information and other necessary assistance:
Mr. LEE Chi-Sun, Director
Rm 1405, Leema Bldg., 146-1 Soosong-Dong,
Chongro-Ku, Seoul 110-140, Korea
Mr. Yang, Je-Moon, Director
Municipal Waste Division
Waste Management and Recycling Bureau
Ministry of Environment
1 Choongang-Dong, Kwacheon City,
Mr. CHO, Il-Sung, Secretary General
Korea Environment Industry Association
4th Fl., Pung Jeon Bldg., 11-3 Jeong-Dong,
Chung-Ku, Seoul 100-120, Korea
Mr. Park, Joung-Ku, Chief
International Cooperation Team
Development & Cooperation Department
Environmental Management Corporation
4-15 Nonhyun-Dong, Kangnam-Ku
Seoul 135-010, Korea
Mr. Kim, Sam-Kwon, Senior Researcher
Waste Treatment Engineering Division
National Institute of Environmental Research
#404, 613-2 Bulkwang-Dong,
Eunpyung-Ku, Seoul 122-706
Phone: 82-2-389-6711 (Ext.802)