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How to part with ‘Plastic Korea’ (KOR)

Mar 08,2019
KIM MIN-WOOK
The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

A mountain of trash stood there, filled with sanitary napkins, toilets, shoes, rubber gloves, sand, concrete and various plastics. I vividly remember the visit to the 3,500 ton-hill of trash at the port of Dangjin, South Chungnam, last month. I confirmed that a local waste treatment company had piled the trash up to “export to Vietnam.”

After the initial report, readers were furious. They commented, “No conscience. What a shame!” “Disgrace for the country,” “It is a crime to dump trash abroad in the name of exporting waste.” While Dangjin is processing the waste, there is no guarantee it will be removed.

It is not a problem limited to Dangjin. Gyeonggi checked 583 waste treatment sites in its jurisdiction and announced its results on March 3. It found 87 violations at 83 sites, 24 violations of waste storage standards, 13 license and registration violations and eight violations of treatment standards, including illegal incineration.

Recently, CNN reported on the trash mountain in Uiseong, North Gyeongsang, and pointed out its excessive plastic usage per person in Korea. It is the shameful face of a plastic country, and it is not easy to export waste any more.

In July 2017, the Chinese government notified the World Trade Organization that it would not be the world’s dumpster. Filmmaker Jiuliang Wang’s 2016 documentary “Plastic China” played a crucial role. It is about a rural village in Shandong Province, where an 11-year-old girl combs her hair by wetting it with dirty water filled with plastic waste. The plastic treatment plant emits smoke, and contaminated water flows under the trash heaps. After the film, a movement to ban the import of waste spread throughout China and Southeast Asia.

Environmental experts say that changing the excessive production and consumption of plastic products is the only realistic solution. When the waste treatment issue emerged last month, the government announced a plan to ease regulations on incineration. However, according to Greenpeace, it could result in emission of pollutants.

Of course, it is not easy to part with “Plastic Korea,” but the time has come to end it. How about we start making small steps in our everyday lives to eliminate waste?

If you carry a reusable tote, you can reduce plastic bags put into the trash. Try a reusable straw with your tumbler. Using a handkerchief is a must-have item for environmental conservation.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 6, Page 29