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Chaos, confusion over how to toss plastic

Government negotiates with recycling firms to resume collection
Apr 03,2018
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Environment Minister Kim Eun-kyung, second from right, visits a recycling company in Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi, on Monday, one day after 48 companies said they would stop collecting plastic and foam waste. [YONHAP]
The Ministry of Environment scrambled to negotiate a resumption of plastic waste collection services on Monday after recycling companies abruptly threatened to halt services because of their low profitability.

Last week, 48 companies said they would stop collecting plastic and foam waste at apartment complexes in Seoul and Gyeonggi starting Sunday. Paper collection was not affected. The announcement threw residents into a frenzy of confusion over how to discard their recyclables.

Korea has a strict waste disposal system in which food waste, general waste and recyclables including paper, plastic, cans and glass bottles must be separated. Failure to comply can result in massive fines.

The private recycling companies told the management offices of apartment complexes last week to advise their residents toss their plastic waste with general waste.

Collection has become less lucrative for the companies after China, a major importer of scrap paper and plastic, banned some solid waste imports in January.

The Environment Ministry said in a statement that after negotiations, all 48 waste disposal companies that announced they would stop collecting plastic waste agreed to resume regular services.

The ministry said it explained to these companies that the government would take into consideration the drop in profitability of plastic waste collection. The companies notified contracted apartment complexes that they would continue to collect their recyclables, and building managers that told their residents to mix plastic with garbage would advise their residents to go back to separating them.

The ministry said it would send officials to inspect the apartments and make sure services have resumed.

Some residents remain skeptical. On Monday, Mrs. Choi, 37, who lives in a 1,400-household complex in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, that produces about 8 tons of plastic waste a week, was busy flattening plastic bottles to discard with general waste. “I saw on the news that regular collection would resume, but because we aren’t certain yet, the residents have been told to throw away only small quantities of plastic if possible,” Choi said.

Mr. Yoo, 65, a manager at an apartment complex in Seongbuk District, northern Seoul, said he was receiving complaints from residents about why the policy kept changing. “If we announce to residents that they should throw away waste a certain way, there are residents who will lash out at us, saying they are paying fees to the management office so we should be the ones taking care of it for them,” he said.

The confusion over plastic waste disposal has even resulted in assaults. On Sunday, police booked a 70-year-old resident of an apartment complex in Gimpo, Gyeonggi, for assaulting a security guard.

The guard was advising the resident not to separate out the plastic for recycling when he lashed out at the guard.

BY CHOI MO-RAN, LIM SUN-YOUNG AND SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]