The Ministry of Environment reported that South Korea’s plastic use went up 19% in 2020. In response, the government has called for the resumption of a ban on disposable items for dine-in customers in coffee shops in April. While citizens generally agree with the government’s broader aims to reduce waste, many also empathize with small business owners who are raising concerns that they do not have the resources for this transition after purchasing equipment like QR code readers to keep up with standards during the pandemic.
Channeling these sentiments, Ahn Cheol-Soo, Chairman of President-elect Yoon’s transition committee, stated that “the outright ban on the use of plastic cups should be pushed back… in order to minimize the burden on small businesses that are already struggling due to the pandemic.” The Moon administration says that turning around the ban now would be too unwieldy but agreed to defer the imposition of fines for noncompliance. However, this posture continues to frustrate small business owners who feel squeezed by not only the pandemic’s effects, but also the government’s vacillation on the rules.
South Koreans use an average of 8.4 billion single-use cups every year. In 2018, the government re-issued a 1994 ban on dine-in customers using disposable items in coffee shops but relaxed the rule during the pandemic for public health reasons.
The 2018 ban came partly in response to China’s decision to stop importing 24 types of solid waste from other countries. As a consequence, Korean recyclers for a brief moment refused to pick up plastic and Styrofoam because those items became difficult to process, causing a crisis of waste pile-up. The government negotiated with the companies to resume pick-up, but the government is also trying to adopt waste reduction to keep such crises from reoccurring.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of jedydjah