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Plastic waste in South Korea - statistics & facts

Plastic is widely used, from daily life to the industrial or construction industry, due to their lightweight design and low cost. In modern society, living without plastic would be almost impossible in everyday life. However, as the world's plastic production increases, the amount of waste plastics also increases, with problems related to waste plastics occurring everywhere. South Korea, the world's leader in plastic consumption per capita, is also facing many plastic problems caused by restrictions on plastic exports and the increase of waste plastics. Plastics initially used for convenience are now being recognized as detriments to the environment and health.

How is plastic waste generated in South Korea?

Plastic consumption in South Korea is steadily increasing. In modern Korean society, where everything is busy and an easy lifestyle is pursued by everyone, people tend to use more single-use plastic items. In fact, plastic consumption in South Korea is significantly higher than in any other country. Accordingly, the Korean government has imposed restrictions on the use of disposable cups in cafes and fast-food restaurants. The number of disposable cups used in the peninsula seems to be decreasing as a result. Courier packaging and associated overpacking also account for a large share of plastic consumption. The use of delivery services is increasing. With the availability of next-day delivery and food delivery, plastic packaging for food delivery is crucial. These discarded plastic items were commonly found in coastal areas. Unsurprisingly, the majority of coastal waste was plastic.

How does South Korea deal with plastic waste?

About 43.6 percent of waste plastics generated in South Korea were recycled as energy or materials. Normally, household waste plastics are small in size and are not properly separated, so they are often sent to landfill or incinerated. South Korea's waste discharge system mainly consists of two methods: pay-as-you-go and separate discharge. For pay-as-you-go, people pay for a pay-as-you-go bag and discharge waste in the bag, with the municipalities collecting these bags. Separation discharge is a method of discarding waste separately for recyclable materials such as plastic, paper, and bottles.

International trade of plastic waste

Korea has traditionally exported a large volume of waste, especially waste plastics, to other countries. With China and the Philippines recently halting waste imports, this poses a challenge for Korea. Due to the lack of waste treatment facilities in the country and with a backlog of un-exportable waste, newly generated waste may not be able to be sorted in a timely manner. This leads to the problem of illegal waste dumping, which produces literal mountains of garbage. In 2019, around 235 mountains of garbage were found in Korea.

What is the public sentiment regarding plastic waste?

According to a survey, many Koreans are concerned about the plastics problem and answered that all of the plastic packaging producers or sellers, government, and consumers have a responsibility to reduce the use of plastics and packaging materials. In particular, the Korean government's regulations on the use of plastic products were supported by retailers and consumers. Additionally, the results of one survey showed that South Koreans try to reuse disposable products or use products made from recyclable materials as a way of using less plastic. There were some suggestions for government policies that would impose more taxes on products that could not be recycled or would require more investment in recycling at the government level.

Interesting statistics

In the following 6 chapters, you will quickly find the 29 most important statistics relating to "Plastic waste in South Korea".


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