2012 (Pilot Project)

Recycling in Korea

While growing up in Canada, I was encouraged and taught to recycle by guest speakers from environmental and government organizations. Recycling was so strongly emphasized during my youth education that even today, as a young adult, I am reluctant to dispose an empty can of pop into a regular garbage bin. Instead, I look around for that blue recycling box with the universal symbol characterized by arrows rotating in a triangular formation.

How does this differ in Korea?

Well, although recycling is optional and voluntary in most Canadian communities, residents in Korea have both a social and legal obligation to recycle. Why?

With rapid economic growth during the mid 1960s till the late 1990s, commonly referred to as “The Miracle on the Han River”, South Korean consumption rose drastically as a result of higher income. Households were purchasing products at an unprecedented rate; with 90% of waste being disposed to landfills.

As a solution, the Waste Control Act was enacted in 1986 under presidential decree, followed by the Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling of Resources in 1992, along with respective amendments and enforcement laws. Today, the Republic of Korea has become a leading nation in waste management and recycling.

So just what makes the recycling program in Korea unique?

The answer is in its comprehensiveness. Recycling in Korea is carried out on certain or all days of the week depending on the location of residence. To minimize strong odour from mounting garbage inside homes, organic waste bins are available daily at collection zones. In addition, residents often opt to washing food residue from non-organic garbage on an ongoing basis.

On recycling day, residents take their garbage to the collection zone about 1 – 3 minutes away. Once arriving, they are met by half a dozen to a dozen large garbage bags, each indicating a specific disposal category. Here are some examples:

Paper, Styrofoam, Can/Steel Containers, PET bottles, Plastics, Small Boxes, Vinyl bags, Coloured Bags, Glass Alcohol Containers, Broken Glass, Other Bottles, Organic Food Waste, and many more. Electronics can be disposed by contacting the original or replacement manufacturer.

Miniature collection bins are available all across South Korea in public areas, fast-food restaurants, shopping centres, etc.

Households, businesses, and other communities in Korea are quite meticulous in recycling their garbage. This in turn results in a friendlier global environment, and is theoretically largely profitable for the country. For more details related to this story, here is BBC’s Lucy Williamson on “South Korea’s enthusiasm for recycling” and “South Korea’s recycling revolution.”


Chung, Suzy. “So, do you know how to throw out the garbage?.” The Korea Blog. Korean

Cultural Centre, 29 Sept 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. http://blog.korea.net/?p=4981.

Ministry of Environment. “Environmental Laws.”. Ministry of Environment, 15 Oct 2009. Web. 25 Nov 2012.


Williamson, Lucy. “South Korea’s enthusiasm for recycling.” . BBC News, 9 June 2011. Web. 25 Nov 2012.


Williamson, Lucy. “South Korea’s recycling revolution.” . BBC News, 22 Jun 2012. Web. 25 Nov 2012.


Categories: 2012 (Pilot Project)

4 replies »

  1. I was so impressed with the recycling system in Korea! I was actually sometimes afraid to dispose of my garbage in case I did something wrong (almost everything is recycled there, unlike here in Canada!)

  2. Allison, I love it! This ties in with beautifully my upcoming post having to do with my initial total ineptitude with the Korean recycling system.

  3. Allison thank you for your great post on recycling in Korea. I learned a lot about this topic. I thought it was the same as in Canada, but it is different and it seems way more efficient, we have many things to learn about recycling from Koreans.

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