The Korea Times
Confusion over recycling
Measures needed to deal with China’s trash imports ban
Trash emerged as a source of major stress among citizens earlier this week.
The trash crisis started when 48 recycling collection companies in Seoul and the surrounding area refused to collect plastic recyclables in residential areas, citing low business viability after China’s ban on foreign imports of trash last year.
The sudden announcement aroused panic for citizens as they were at a loss over how to dispose of vinyl, plastic bags, bottles and styrofoam. The move triggered much frustration among some citizens. In one apartment complex in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, the police booked a 70-year-old resident who got angry and beat up a security guard who tried to stop residents from throwing away plastic waste.
Some apartment complexes notified residents to put plastic waste in authorized garbage bags. This caused even more anger among citizens because this is illegal and people can be fined for disposing of recyclables in authorized garbage bags.
Since these bags are expensive, using them for disposing recyclables, on top of other trash, will place even more of a burden on citizens. A batch of 10 garbage bags that can contain 20 liters of garbage each is sold at grocery stores and convenience stores at almost 5,000 won. No one wants to spend more money than they already do on buying garbage bags.
The conflict stems from China’s ban of trash imports for environmental reasons since last year. China used to be the worlds’ largest importer of recyclables, but it restricted imports of 24 kinds of solid waste, including plastics, causing prices to fall.
Since China’s trash ban, local garbage collection companies have complained of low margins and high processing costs. But the ban is only part of the reason.
The companies returned to work Monday after reaching an agreement with the Ministry of Environment for comprehensive measures to make up for the losses. The problem is that similar conflicts can occur in other regions at any time as long as China maintains its restriction on trash imports as a way to contain pollution.
It is incomprehensible that the government has done little to respond to the impact China’s ban of trash imports has had on local trash management since the ban was imposed in July 2017.
The government should prepare more sustainable measures to deal with recyclable waste.
Citizens need to do their part too by making efforts to reduce use of plastics, disposable goods and produce less solid waste.