Have you heard of South Korea’s recycling movement?

I was fascinated when I first heard of it. And even more when I watched the character of IU in The Producers, comfortably meticulous while removing the remnants from bottles. I tend to do that as well, but it’s not as if we have strict regulations in place.

Waste disposal management in Korea started in the 1990’s to curb the pressure on landfills and stop dumping ‘treated’ waste into the oceans. Today, more than 80% of their wastes is recycled, with the majority of food being reused as animal feed, compost [1], and even biofuels [3]. Food waste was slashed from 5.1 million tons in 2008 to 4.82 million tons in 2014 [1]. Likewise, about 90% percent of their electronic wastes is recycled [2].

Recycling is nothing new. We were taught in schools to separate our wastes in appropriate bins – green for biodegradable, yellow for non-recyclable, and red for recyclable. We saw the variations and attempts. At home, we even separate food waste from general waste. And clap clap, we’re good!

Food waste and general waste bags (Photo from nickisaccochacon)

It’s more fun in South Korea, though. Waste disposal is centralized. People ought to buy waste bags appropriated for each district – yellow for food waste and white for general waste. Recyclables are either collated in any bag or properly sorted in bins. You’ll often come across bins along apartment complexes. Prices may vary from district to district; bags come in set of 10 or 20, holding 1 liter to 120 liters.

Essentially, you pay for your wastes – volume-based – an obvious incentive to waste less. A large penalty is waiting for those who improperly dispose their food and general wastes [1].

A boy using a bin powered by RFID (Photo from Sustainable Brands)

In 2012, some have centralized bin that utilizes RFID or radio frequency identification technology which weighs each household’s wastes and bills each monthly. No wonder people have been more mindful of their food consumption.

Don’t get me started on their sorting specifics. South Koreans are likely the most stellar sorting wizards! Most of us, however, are used to separating waste intuitively (whatever that means). It might be a shock if we were suddenly scolded for throwing that bone to the food waste bag! Animal bones can choke animals, so, yeah, in the white bag it goes.

But dealing with our wastes today is nothing but helpful, and is plainly our responsibility. Shall we get started? Here’s the gist:

General wastes – used tissue, toilet paper, sanitary pads, old shoes and clothes

Recyclables – paper packs, glasses, cans, papers (i.e. printing paper, magazines, newspapers, boxes, cartons), plastics (no toys, stationery pens and small candy wraps), and vinyl (i.e. snack bags, dessert wraps).

Food wastes – as long as it’s safe and edible (recycled feeds) for animals. Exceptions are egg shells, crustacean shells, clam shells, onion and garlic skin, animal bones, tea bags or tea leaves. Take heed!

Oversized wastes – all the big appliances and furniture you can imagine

Source: [4]

Other countries known for advancing their waste disposal efforts are Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore [1].

We can hope for such a stringent system to rub off on us. But it will take action and discipline. Perhaps, we can start making our own compost?

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[1] Chang, M.C. (2016, April 24). South Korea cuts food waste with ‘pay as you trash.’ The Straits Times. Retrieved from

[2] Strother, J. (2014, October27).  South Korea launches initiative to recycle more e-waste. VOA News. Retrieved from

[3] Innovation Seeds (2016). South Korea’s food waste reduction policies. Retrieved from

[4] Melissa (2016, July 15).  Your complete guide to garbage disposal in South Korea. 10 Mag. Retrieved from


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