Adventures Abroad – Recycling in South Korea

Image of Recycling Waste Disposal in South Korea | Keep Florida Beautiful Blog
When our KFB Intern, Parker Bledsoe, graduated from FSU, he traveled to South Korea to gain experience abroad. In this post, Parker shares some valuable insights on recycling.

When I moved to Gwangju, South Korea in the summer of 2016, I expected to face many of the challenges that normally come with living in a new country. I expected to be challenged by the language gap, learning about a new culture, and starting a new job. I was not, however, expecting to be challenged by the waste disposal system of my new country.

The trouble all began when I realized I could not go to a store and buy a box of trash bags like I would back home. Instead, they are sold individually behind the counter like cigarettes, which forced me to do some charades to get one as I don’t speak Korean. They are also quite expensive at around $1.50 apiece. These bags are specialized to your specific district in the city and are strictly for only non-recyclables. This is important as there are hefty fines imposed on anyone caught not recycling properly.

Depending on where you live in South Korea, the waste collection system can differ slightly but the basics remain pretty much the same. Using my apartment as an example, there are seven different collection bins for waste located at the back of the building. It seems to me that the security guard that watches over my apartment building spends 90% of his time here watching carefully over the trash bins. When he is elsewhere, a CCTV camera fills in to keep people accountable.
Image of Recycling Waste Disposal in South Korea | Keep Florida Beautiful Blog
Six of the seven bins here are for recyclables; glass, plastic, metals, clothing, paper, and food waste. The seventh is for bags of unrecyclable waste. The food waste bin is electronic and only opens once you have verified your identity so that it can charge you based on the weight of the food waste you dispose of. I will say that from experience, being charged the extra fee on non-recyclable trash and food waste definitely works as an incentive to lower your output of both.
People in South Korea have good reason to be so serious about recycling. Their country is almost half the size of Florida and 50 million people live there. On top of that, only about 30% of South Korea is lowlands while the rest is mountainous. This puts habitable land at a premium and forces the cities to be extremely compact with almost everyone living in apartment buildings instead of individual houses. This is a good reason to avert as much trash from growing landfills as possible. Garbage incineration is also not a good answer to the problem as air pollution is already quite high in this region of the world. So South Koreans have turned to recycling and have done a good job at it, recycling over half of all waste produced.

After almost a year living here, I am no longer intimidated by the Korean recycling system, but rather, I am excited to bring the passion for recycling that I have experienced here back home with me.

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