Thursday, October 14, 2010

Talking Trash...Bags

Most households in South Korea can't simply buy a roll of 100 standard white "kitchen garbage bags" at the supermarket. Why? On January 1, 1995 the Ministry of Environment introduced a “volume-based waste fee” system (VBWF), where all households and commercial building owners are required to purchase specially designed plastic bags for waste collection. Called Sseulaegi Bongtu (쓰 레 기 봉 투), these garbage bags cost upwards of 1,050 won (almost $1) for a single 50 liter (kitchen garbage can sized) bag.

Specialized bags are also available for wet food waste. For disposal of large objects, a sticker must be purchased from the county or city district offices. The price of the sticker varies by municipality based on the type and size of the item being thrown out.

The cost of purchasing these bags is intended to pay for the garbage disposal, but in fact it aids environmental efforts to reduce the overall level of garbage being thrown out. Because each household has to pay a premium for each garbage bag, they are less inclined to throw otherwise recyclable or compostable objects into the trash, lest they fill up the bag more quickly. Violators of the system face a fine of 500,000 won.

Concerns can be raised about the environmental effects of the production of these bags, as opposed to using a system of bins for trash collection or allowing the re-use of bags used to carry grocery store items home. According to the 2003 Korea Environmental Policy Bulletin, the composition of VBWF bags are PE (polyethylene), PE with more than 30 percent of biodegradable resin (bags used for food waste compost) or PE with more than 30 percent of calcium carbonate (for trash that is incinerated). In 2002, reusable VBWF bags were instituted, and can be purchased at grocery stores to carry purchased goods and later be used as regular VBWF bags when disposing garbage. The use of vinyl bag to carry purchased goods can thus be reduced.

Has it worked?