How to Trash in Korea

If you want to live in a place where the trash process and recycling is easy, move anywhere but Korea. I made a similar post when I was living in Japan, but throwing away items in Korea is even more particular.

First, you have to buy the trash bags. Each neighborhood area has their own trash bags. Luckily, the sales of the trash bags are regulated by the government so you are able to buy them at any store for the same price. There are two different types of bags you have to buy: trash (Sseulaegi Bongtu (쓰레기 봉투) and food waste (Eum-shik-mool Sseulaegi Bongtu (음식물 쓰레기 봉투). The bags also come in different sizes: 1, 3, 5, and 10 liter bags.

Then you have to sort everything. The sorting process will take some time, just because there are many items that Korea recycles. You should take some time and care into the sorting process. If you improperly sort items, your trash may not be picked up next time or you will receive a fine. If you are like me and live in an apartment building, there will be a trash room somewhere in the building. It's most likely on the first floor or on B1. When you walk in you will see bins and bins lining the walls. All of these bins include different recyclable materials. You have to recycle paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, and other materials as well. There will most likely be a camera inside the sorting room. This is to make sure you are properly throwing away your materials. I was not joking when I said they would fine you. Unfortunately, If you do not live in an apartment building like this, you will have to sort out the materials yourself.

Recycling: Plastic
Plastics include almost everything. Water bottles, plastic milk cartons, the plastic containers seaweed comes in, even plastic bags. Anything labeled with a 1, 2, 3, or 5 must be recycled. All of these will go in separate containers in the sorting room. If you cannot read the Korean just do what I do: I look inside each bin and see what is in there. If it's what I'm looking for, I put my recyclables in there too.

Recycling: Paper
Recycling paper should be an obvious one. But the range of items that this includes in surprising. You should recycle newspapers, books, cardboard, paper bags, paper boxes, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, cartons (milk, juice, etc), notebooks, textbooks, wrapping paper, regular paper, and ads. If it is made from trees, you should recycle it.

Recycling: Other
There will also be bins for "other" materials. These materials may seem like obvious things to recycle, but I was surprised to see some of the things down there. For example: you will have a styrofoam bin. You will also have a glass container, one for metals, aluminum, batteries, old clothes and blankets, films (candy wrappers, instant noodle wrappings with recyclable symbol on them, etc), light bulbs, and appliances.

Food Waste
Even though the one bag is considered "food waste" you still have things you cannot put in there. The rule of thumb is to only include foods that animals can eat. (Since its rumored that this food waste is given to pigs for food.) Things that cannot be put into the food waste bags include: hard shells or skins, bones, feathers, tea leaves, or herbal medicines.
Seeing as how there is so much for you to recycle, there shouldn't be much going into your non-recycling bag. There are a few things that should NOT be recycled though. These include:

  • Plastic: anything with a 3 or 7.
  • Paper: plastic coated paper products
  • Glass: mirrors, china dishes, and cosmetic bottles.
  • Metals: paint, oil, or toxic material containers.
  • Clothes: bedding and pillows.

I hope this is a helpful list of what to and what not to recycle in Korea. I'm sure after you find your own sorting room, you will be able to understand the process easier. Please do not forget to buy the proper trash bags. Most food waste bags are yellow. The trash bags can be purple, tan, white, or blue. (These are just the colors that I have seen. It's possible there are more colors readily available.) Good luck and start trashing!

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