As “recyclable waste crisis” occurred in Korea, huge amount of waste paper piled up in the apartment complex.
/Photograph by Choi Si-eun
From this year, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment in the People's Republic of China ceased to import 24 kinds of solid wastes from other countries. Due to the Chinese policy, many Korean waste pickup companies refused to dispose the trash since they could not sell the waste to China anymore. As a result, a huge amount of recyclable waste piled up, which is now called “recyclable waste crisis.”
Chinese government prohibited importing trash
China has imported the trash from many countries including Korea, the United States and Japan. However, most plastic waste imported from Korea and other countries to China were open-burned and buried improperly in remote areas. In addition, lots of trash which has dangerous substances was mixed up with the imported waste. It caused serious environmental problems in China. As a result, in July, 2017, Chinese government declared that they will not import 24 kinds of solid waste anymore, including plastic waste and paper.
After the announcement, from January 1st, 2018, China ceased to import such waste from other countries. The exported amount of waste paper decreased 40.6 percent and that of plastic decreased 92 percent in Korea. In addition, many domestic companies, which have gained profits by selling the recyclable waste to China, refused to pick up the waste. Consequently, as the recyclable waste could not be disposed in many places, the “recyclable waste crisis” became a hot topic of discussion.
The impact of recyclable crisis caused discomfort in Korea
Korean waste pickup companies suffered from financial damage due to China's restriction on importing waste. As the export amount decreased, there was a drop in the unit price of the waste and several companies ceased to dispose the trash. In this regard, one trash pickup company's president Hwang said “Last year's second half average monthly sales was about 30 to 40 million won, but this year's monthly sales is only about ten million. Considering the logistical cost, it is a big loss.”
The companies’ reaction affected individuals, who have produced a large quantity of trash every day. As the trash was not collected, apartment residents had to store trash in their house for several weeks. An apartment resident in Dongbaekdong, Yongin said, “I experienced inconvenience because the waste pickup company refused to pick up Styrofoam trash. I had to keep that trash in my house for a week.”
Accordingly, additional problems occurred as people threw away their trash anywhere. Some apartments announced to throw away un-collected recyclable trash in the standard plastic garbage bag. However, this was the wrong way because the standard plastic garbage bag is originally made for regular waste, not for recyclable waste.
A variety of efforts are being made to get through the crisis
As the problem became more serious and an increasing number of people voiced their discomfort, various subjects began to offer solutions. First, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) provided paper manufacture companies with storage and induced them to buy waste paper that is piled up around the capital area. However, not only the amount is two million seven thousand tons but also the waste paper's unit price was lowered. Consequently, as many recycling companies did not change their decision, the crisis could not be handled.
Also, the MOE made them use the public facilities to reduce the cost spent to burn leftover waste. Moreover, the MOE announced it will consider banning markets from using plastic bags, kicking out colored-PET, and expanding waste-separating facilities.
In addition, The Korean Agency for Technology and Standards and the Korea Testing & Research Institute will participate in committee of World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), which is planned to be held at Geneva, Swiss in June. The committee will negotiate with China about the restriction of importing trash. Also it includes a statement of Korea's stance on the China's policy. The statement delivers that the regulation of Chinese government is inappropriate in that PET and paper wastes’ maleficence is low. It explains China's standard for accepting impurities from Korea is too strict compared to other countries.
The local government also made an action. Hanam-si decided to utilize the city’s facilities to handle the recyclable trash. It has a facility called Hanam Environmental Infrastructure. It can sort 50 tons of recyclable trash per day and has a compress facility that can deal with domestic waste. After this problem arose, they equipped a gear that can recycle 1.2 tons of Styrofoam and 12 tons of plastic bags per day. Hanam-si actively utilized their infrastructure to lessen local residents’ inconvenience. Thanks to these efforts, the trash pickup companies resumed their work and trash could be picked up again in most of the places.
People should be aware of the proper way to dispose waste
Individual actions on disposing recyclable trash is also important. The fundamental problem now is China's import restriction, but in a broader prospect, it is important to know about the proper method in throwing away trash. Kang Sung-young (Freshman, Department of International Trade) mentioned, “I saw plastic cups and papers thrown away in the same trash can without separating them. I was worried because it seemed difficult to be recycled.” Because of this lack of awareness, not only pickup companies but also individuals experience inconvenience. Therefore, an effort should be made among people when throwing away trash.
According to the guidelines that the MOE announced, plastic should be washed before throwing away. Plastic bags should be disposed without impurities left. Collecting the small plastic bag waste in one, and then disposing it can be a good way. If this trash is thrown away dirty, the pickup company has to spend additional money to clean them up, since dirty trash cannot be recycled.
Kim Seung-do, the professor of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Biotechnology of Hallym University, said, “Korea should have developed various types of material recycling method and technology in a long-term plan. Since Korea does not have proper methods and facilities to dispose the trash, the best way to solve the crisis is to apply ‘Energy Recycling.’ It is for incinerating the plastic wastes by obtaining the heat energies and generating electricity from the heat energies.”
Until now, most people thought that trash is something that we only throw away, without thinking about the next process. Some people were careless in discarding it and did not know much about the recycle market. Professor Kim mentioned, “Therefore, we should think about utilizing the recycle waste in our country, or diversifying the export destination countries. In terms of production, companies should consider about recycling in the step of producing something.” Recognizing this problem and striving to find the solutions are the most important thing, because this crisis can occur again at any time.
Choi Si-eun firstname.lastname@example.org
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