There are a few things to know when traveling to Korea. Regarding recycling in Korea, there are a lot of strict regulations and policies compared to other countries. In Korea, garbage is separated into common garbage (일반쓰레기), food waste (음식물쓰레기), recyclables (재활용품), and large waste objects (대형페기물). However, each garbage category has its separate regulation, which causes a lot of confusion to foreigners who come from countries where recycling is not mandatory. It is important to adjust and follow Korean regulations since improper disposal can lead to warnings or (at worst) fines.

To avoid angry garbage men, Seoul Space has prepared a quick overview of how to sort your trash the Korean way. For a more detailed article, check out our feature on tips for traveling to Seoul

Recycling in Korea


Food Waste in Korea

Food waste is not as big of an issue compared to other countries. Companies and startups in Korea are helping to reduce the environmental impact of food production in South Korea. They are also creating valuable products that can be used by farmers and gardeners, making the most out of what would otherwise be wasted.

Food waste needs to be separated from general waste. Therefore it is placed in a special disposal bag that comes in 3 sizes (3, 5, and 10-liter bags). How do you know which kind of food waste to put in these bags? Koreans believe that if an animal (pig) can eat it, it can go in the bag. Therefore anything edible can go in the Food Waste bags. This includes fruit/vegetable skins, uncooked or raw meat, and even raw eggs. However, eggshells, crab/shrimp/clamshells, bones, and unedible fruit/vegetable skins must go in the general waste bag.

General Waste in Korea

Generally, in South Korea, waste and trash are handled by either being incinerated or buried. Incineration is when waste is burned and turned into energy, while burying is when waste is put into the ground. There are many incineration plants located throughout South Korea that handle the majority of waste and trash. These plants use high-tech machines to burn the junk and then generate electricity from the heat. The leftover ash from the incineration process is then buried.

Much of South Korea’s trash is recycled as well. Recycling centers are located throughout the country, and waste management companies do a great job regarding general waste collection. South Korea has a very effective system for handling waste and trash. By utilizing both incineration and burying, almost all of the country’s waste is dealt with in an eco-friendly way.

General waste is considered anything that can’t be recycled or put in a food waste bag. This includes issues, sanitary materials, pillows, old shoes, pillows, blankets, clothes, and common small objects. General waste bags can be found in your local convenient store or market. We recommend getting the 20L bag as it will fit most trash bins.

Recycling in Korea

While the recycling process may vary from country to country, South Korea has developed an efficient and environmentally friendly system. Recyclable materials are collected from households and businesses by a centrally managed company. These materials are then sorted and sold to companies that specialize in recycling. The resulting products are reused or sold as raw materials for new products. In addition to reducing waste, this system also generates revenue for the government and creates new jobs. As a result, recycling is an important part of South Korea’s economy.

In Korea, most apartments will have a recycling area with various different containers for your recyclables. If you live in a Villa, you won’t need a special bag for your recyclable items. You can use a separate clear bag and leave it with your general waste bag.

So what needs to be recycled in Korea?

  • Juice/Milk cartons
  • Glass Bottles
  • Aluminum Cans
  • Plastic containers/bottles (PET)
  • Paper (magazines, newspapers, printing paper)
  • Boxes
  • Vinyl

Oversized Items

When throwing out oversized items such as furniture or appliances, you will need to buy a sticker to put on them so they can be picked up for disposal. The maintenance man or security guard will have these stickers if you live in an apartment. The price will depend on the size of the furniture or appliance. For example, a large bed will cost around 40,000 won.

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