Hur Ji-hyun, a 41-12 months-previous “upcycling” designer in Seoul, is a massive supporter of soy milk. But the environmentally conscious South Korean was always troubled by the simple fact that each and every pack of her favoured model arrived with a plastic straw, which she never employed.
So, two several years in the past, she despatched a bundle of straws back to the soy milk producer, along with a letter pointing out that lots of buyers did not require the straws. As she shared her tale on social media, numerous like-minded consumers followed in her footsteps, forcing the country’s two principal dairy and soy milk producers — Maeil Dairies and Namyang Dairy Goods — to redesign deals without straws for some items.
“Many persons assume their personal voice or action will not make a variance, but it does,” states Hur. “We can very easily get united thanks to the online and social media.”
As her tale demonstrates, the so-called “zero waste” motion is getting momentum in South Korea as young people and environmental activists pile strain on companies to reduce plastics as part of their transition to a greener financial state.
Their increasing enthusiasm for green residing recently propelled the nation to the leading of the “green society” category in the Eco-friendly Long run Index 2022, a ranking compiled by MIT Technological know-how Review, a media organization affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how. A significant score indicates the local community embraces sustainability by way of actions these as recycling, making certain structures are eco-welcoming, and consuming a lot less meat and dairy.
South Korea has one particular of the world’s highest per capita plastic usage premiums. But it also has nicely-created squander assortment and recycling products and services, with a recycling level that attained 68 for each cent past 12 months, in accordance to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.
Confronted with consumer tension to introduce extra eco-friendly insurance policies, the governing administration declared a approach in 2020 to lessen plastic waste by 20 for every cent by 2025.
It is also increasing its prolonged producer accountability programme, which obliges corporations to dispose of plastic squander from their goods. The scheme has prompted about 10 bottled water producers, including significant-offering makes this sort of as Nongshim and Lotte Chilsung, to promote their h2o without having labels so that the bottles are easier to recycle.
In addition, Asia’s largest café overall economy — as South Korea is often dubbed — will make coffee retailers charge a refundable deposit for disposable cups from December, soon after banning the use of plastic cups for dine-in buyers in 2018. “This will be our 1st step to improve our squander management technique that other international locations can benchmark,” claims Hong Su-yeol, who operates Source Recycle Consulting — and is superior known as “Dr Waste” in South Korea.
Hong claims consumers’ environmental consciousness has sharply increased since a Chinese ban on waste imports in 2018 compelled South Korea to handle important volumes of plastic garbage at dwelling. “It was a wake-up contact for lots of individuals and has sparked a grassroots movement versus plastic squander,” he suggests.
This has accomplished numerous “small victories” towards buyer items organizations. Hur, for case in point, recurring her soy milk tactic with food company CJ CheilJedang, forcing it to eliminate plastic caps from some of its ham merchandise intended for conventional holiday seasons.
In the same way, Brita Korea turned the 1st Asian subsidiary of the German company to obtain drinking water filters for recycling following shoppers sent hundreds of them back again to the firm.
Campaigners have also qualified cosmetics makers, which includes AmorePacific, whose reps pledged past 12 months — next a protest held in front of its Seoul headquarters — that it would try to eradicate non-recyclable packaging by 2030. Meanwhile, Starbucks Korea introduced past calendar year that it would make every single retail outlet plastic-no cost by 2025 — the chain’s initially move of this sort.
A lot more stories from this report
A more sign of consumers’ expanding eco-consciousness is the nationwide proliferation of zero-squander outlets, where shoppers deliver their individual containers for solutions ranging from shampoo and detergent to olive oil and coffee beans.
Ko Kum-sook, who operates one particular of Seoul’s 200 zero-waste stores, states about 80 for every cent of her buyers are ladies in their 20s and 30s. “They are the era most fascinated in ethical intake although Korean modern society, in basic, is nonetheless focused on financial performance.”
A the latest survey by Korea Chamber of Commerce and Field observed that 65 per cent of South Korean millennials and Era Z — born, respectively, among the early 1980s and mid-1990s, and the mid-1990s and early 2010s — are more involved with moral usage than value. This contrasts with the former generation’s preoccupation with price tag.
But this eco-consciousness seems to have restrictions. Plastic use surged through the pandemic, as people today turned to on line buying and takeaways. And, even though some development has been built on the retail front, South Korea’s export-driven financial state remains largely dependent on carbon-intense heavy business and producing.
“People are not discussing elementary solutions this kind of as accelerating industrial restructuring or growing renewable energy manufacturing, [because they are] involved about the substantial transition cost and probable position losses,” Ko states. “No a person would like to endure the soreness.”
Activists alert that the state continue to has a extended way to go to achieve its goal of turning out to be carbon neutral by 2050. They warn that, even though the campaign to minimize use of plastics is assisting lower greenhouse gasoline emissions, it is a fall in the ocean in the combat in opposition to local weather improve.
They are also concerned the country’s new conservative president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who has emphasised his small business-helpful financial procedures, could roll again environmental regulations.
“The natural environment coverage is probably to go backwards beneath the new administration,” states Heo Seung-eun at Eco-friendly Korea, an environmental activism group.
“Companies need to have to imagine extra about recycling from the manufacturing stage, but adjustments are coming gradually, as opposed with consumers’ improved environmental recognition.”