Trash and Recycling in Korea


trash & recycling

The business of throwing something away.  Odds are, we Americans don’t give a lot of thought to any of it.  We set a can on the curb and forget it.  Maybe we separate cans from plastic or bundle old newspapers, but most likely we don’t spend much time or mental energy on our garbage.  Here in Korea, however, they do.  While you are here, you are going to become very intimate with everything you toss out.

Here are a few tips about trash and recycling for those of us living off post.

Recycling:  Koreans tend to take things out in small batches every few days, so it doesn’t stockpile and smell.  The big exception to this is if your apartment complex has one specific day or a certain time of the day designated for trash take out.  I tried that method, but I found it easier to get bags/bins instead.  I got mine online from GUS (, but plastic tubs from Daiso work just as well.

Koreans separate recyclables into many more categories than you might be familiar with from the United States.

  • Soft plastic–cling wrap, granola bar wrappers
  • Hard plastic–water bottles, firm plastic packaging
  • Slick, waxy cardboard–milk cartons, juice boxes
  • Metal–cans, hangers
  • Glass
  • Foam—some instant ramen bowls, meat trays
  • Cardboard—from all those boxes from the States, cereal boxes, paper towel rolls
    • This includes bulk paper like magazines and newspapers.

Composting:  A Korean friend called it “food recycling” once, and I had to smile.  Save veggie peelings, fruit cores, rice, etc.  Do not include meat, bones, eggs and shells, and dairy.  These inhibit the composting process.  You might have found a small bucket in one cabinet or a small basket in your sink.  These are to collect the scraps as you’re cooking and cleaning up.  They are widely available if you don’t have them.  There is one special trash can designated for cooking scraps.  There is usually also a sink or hose nearby for rinsing your bucket.  I line my bucket with a plastic bag because there is another trash can next to it for disposing of the soiled bags.

Other:  You might also notice a tall, green bin with an opening near the top standing off to the side.  This is for clothing, bedding, or accessories to be donated.  Other random toys, furniture, or flower pots might also show up.  Some are still in great condition, and it is acceptable to take anything you might use.

trash & recycling


Trash:  Finally you’ve separated every single item out which may be reused and are left with a surprisingly little amount of regular old trash.  Pause and feel accomplished!  Then you must go buy and use specially marked trash bags.  Special trash bags can be bought in several sizes at most convenience stores.  Look for a sign near the front door.  Home Plus also sells them at the register.  Some commissaries also sell off post trash bags, but be careful.  You must use the trash bags designated for your province/township.

You also need a separate special trash bag for pet and yard waste.  It’s designated as a “rubbish” bag.

Tips:  You’ve probably noticed already, but there aren’t many trash cans out around town.  Plan on packing most if not all your trash back home with you.  I carry an extra plastic bag with me for the empty bottles and snack wrappers I accumulate.

Watch your neighbors, especially around dinner time.  That is when many people take out the food scraps and recyclables from the day.  Letting them go first gives you an example to follow, and if you look lost enough, they will usually stick around and help you with your turn.

Don’t fudge the rules.  It seems overwhelming and time consuming at first, but they do try and track down offenders who break the rules.  They will look for addresses in your trash or look through the CCV footage.  The first offense they get quite loud and animated trying to show you what you did wrong.  It sounds horrible, but if you fix your mistake there’s no harm done.

Ask your relator about which trash bags are appropriate and where to get them near your apartment.  My relator even bought me some the first month until I got organized enough to do it myself.

trash & recycling

Before too long the business of throwing something away will become second nature.  Maybe you will even take some of these Earth-friendly habits back to the United States with you.

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