Sustainability in Korea

By Lynn Lee

Climate change is real. Despite what people may say, the proof is undeniable. The melting polar caps and the increasing (sweltering) temperature in certain regions cannot be ignored. Korea has been experiencing side effects of global warming as well, ranging from temperature fluctuation during the four seasons to increased rainfall amounts.

As a ratifier of the Paris Agreement adopted in December of 2015, as well as being an active participant in climate change negotiations in general, the Korean government and Korean society have several strategies in place to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s take a look at some of the small ways that Korea is trying to make a difference.

  • Straws

Metal straws have become a huge global movement, and Korea definitely hasn’t been excluded from this. Metal straws and bamboo straws are widely available in Korea; you can even find them at certain grocery stores! In addition, large chain stores such as Starbucks have switched from using plastic straws to paper ones. One of the biggest reasons why people aren’t active in the discussion of climate change is because they don’t believe that they can contribute anything. However, straws are the perfect example of a small, simple way of reducing our plastic usage.

  • Recycling Policies

South Korea has a highly functional recycling system, which has helped South Korea go from recycling 2% of its food waste to recycling 95% of its food waste. Citizens are required to split their waste into four categories: general garbage, organic waste, recyclables, and large waste objects. Koreans must buy synthetic resin bags to put their waste in, which covers the waste treatment costs. However, for recyclables, large bins are provided, thus giving an economic incentive to recycle.

  • Bags

Like many other countries around the world, the law in Korea mandates that there must be a charge for a plastic bag in stores. Though the fee is nominal, it is the concept that matters; the act of giving an extra coin can make one evaluate whether or not they truly need a bag. This practice has also encouraged many Korean citizens to start bringing their own shopping bags around, thus reminding people to shop sustainably. Recently, the government has strengthened the law by banning single-use plastic bags in supermarkets, with the only exception being for wet products. Supermarkets are now required to offer paper or cloth bags for customers to use!

  • Ugly Apples

In some Korean supermarkets, there are stands of apples labelled “ugly apples.” These fruits may have small dents or perhaps look misshapen, however, there is nothing wrong or different about the apple. They are sold at a lower price than regular apples, creating an appeal for customers wishing to save a bit of money. By using such tactics to sell products that many stores deem unsatisfactory for customers, these supermarkets are doing their part in reducing the amount of food waste in Korea.

All of the points listed above are small changes that have been made in Korea and to those who reside in Korea. However, a large number of small changes can make a difference, as shown through Korea’s progress in climate change. Let’s all take a step in the right direction and work towards a more sustainable world.

Written by Lynn Lee

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