Seoul to crack down on plastic waste
With 291,000 plastic bags used just to cover wet umbrellas last year, disposable plastic bags for dripping umbrellas will be axed from next month
By Kim Hyun-bin
Plastic bags have become a rising crisis in South Korea, taking over one third of the capital Seoul’s recyclable waste.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to strengthen crackdowns on stores that hand out free plastic bags after purchase.
Any stores that have a floor size larger than 33 square meters including pharmacies and convenience stores will be inspected.
“We will strengthen our campaigns urging people to use paper bags and boxes, and penalise establishments that offer plastic bags for free,” a city official said.
Business owners violating the rule face fines up to 300,000 won (US$280).
The city also plans to request large businesses including distribution centres, bookstores, and department stores to limit imports of black plastic bags and request customers use paper bags or boxes.
Based on statistics released in 2015, an average Korean took home 420 plastic bags a year, which was six times more than in Germany and 105 times higher than in Finland.
“More people have been using plastic bags due to convenience,” a city official said. “When buried underground, it takes a couple hundred years for plastic bags to decompose. We need people to start using shopping baskets to reduce plastic bag use.”
The city plans to increase campaigns aiming to reduce the use of plastic bags.
Starting next month, plastic bag campaigns under the theme “rejecting plastic bags” and “preparing shopping baskets” are scheduled to be held in traditional markets and events around the capital.
“We also plan to promote the plastic bag reduction campaign through subway, bus and electronic displays installed throughout the city. We also plan to crack down on excessive packaging of products,” a city official said.
The city also plans to install rainwater extractors in government buildings to help remove rainwater from umbrellas.
Just last year alone, over 291,000 plastic bags used to cover wet umbrellas were distributed in buildings around the capital.
Korea has been struggling to reduce the use of plastic bags after China halted imports of plastic waste in January.
For years, China has been importing over half of the world’s paper and plastic waste, but last year it announced a ban on 24 types of solid waste including plastics and unsorted paper, due to domestic environmental issues.
Private garbage pickup services also halted collection of plastic bags and plastic foam containers as it has become difficult to profit due to China’s plastic waste ban.
The Ministry of Environment convened an emergency meeting to tackle the issue with waste management companies and other provincial governments to ensure the proper collection of plastic waste, but has not been successful in tackling the problem so far.
In addition, the ministry is looking into ways to compensate businesses for collecting plastic waste to help the operation of waste management companies.