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Gift set packaging goes green for the holidays

Feb 02,2019
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Lotte Mart’s new thermal bags for beef gift sets come in a sleek, modern design. They also have shoulder straps, making them more practical and portable. [LOTTE MART]
For many in Korea, Lunar New Year is a time to meet relatives and exchange elaborately-packaged gift sets that could contain anything from fruits and raw meat to cans of Spam.

But one side effect to this approach to gift giving is the excessive waste - especially those originating from gift set packaging - which has been brought up as a major concern by Korea’s environment authorities in recent years.

With growing government pressure and awareness about the environmental issues caused by excessive packaging, department stores and grocery franchises are trying to take the lead in adopting greener alternatives this year.

Colored Styrofoam and gel-based ice packs, which are notoriously difficult to recycle, are the first things to get scrapped.

Hyundai Department Store and Lotte Mart have both announced that they are replacing colored Styrofoam in gift sets with a plain white alternative starting from this holiday season. Previously, the companies added color to the material to add visual appeal. Colored Styrofoam materials are difficult to recycle because more money and manpower is required to create new Styrofoam products from them, making them unattractive to recycling companies.

Lotte Department Store is chilling gift sets of meat and fish with ice packs filled with water instead of gel-based ones for the first time this year.

Competitor Shinsegae Department Store is also ditching the hard-to-recycle wooden boxes and cloth wrapping it had previously used to package gift sets. It will use paper boxes instead.

Other retailers are collecting ice packs - both gel- and water-based - and recycling them themselves.

Department store chain AK Plaza said it will collect ice packs from AK Plaza-bought gift sets across all its stores until Feb. 10 for recycling and disposal.

Hyundai Home Shopping is taking it one step further and accepting ice packs regardless of their place of purchase. This year, it teamed up with Gangdong District office in eastern Seoul to install collection bins in 18 locations to allow customers to drop off used ice packs after the holidays.

“We’ve collected ice packs from our online shopping members in the past and decided to install public ice pack collection bins this holiday season,” said a Hyundai spokesperson. “We will send out the ice packs that we collect to our partners in the food industry so they can be reused.”

Lotte Mart is focusing on making gift bags more attractive and practical to encourage customers to use them even after the holidays end.

The thermal bags that come with its beef gift sets now have shoulder straps and a sleek black design, making them practical and user-friendly. While the thermal bags have always been reusable, they were previously covered with large Lotte brand logos and difficult to carry around.

The grocery chain is also going to package more fruit gifts this year in what it calls “recycle boxes.” The boxes, first introduced during last year’s Chuseok (harvest festival) holidays, are made of sturdy paper that can easily be reassembled into mini storage boxes.

“We didn’t register any copyright for our fruit ‘recycle box’ design so that other retailers can also participate in recycling and reducing disposable waste,” a Lotte spokesperson explained.

The businesses’ green initiatives follow the government’s consistent calls to reduce packaging and other waste during the Lunar New Year holidays.

As has become customary every holiday season, the Environment Ministry announced last month that it will work together with local governments to inspect gift sets being sold across retailers in the country and fine violators up to 3 million won ($2,700) if they do not comply with packaging rules.

Current regulations stipulate that gift sets can only be wrapped two times and that the volume of packaging must not exceed 25 percent of the product’s total volume.

Last Lunar New Year, the Environment Ministry fined the manufacturers of 49 products that were in violation of these rules. The total fine combined came to 52 million won ($46,000).

“We have seen a small decline in the number of products that violate excessive packaging regulations over the years,” said an Environment Ministry official in the recycling division. “The participation of companies to reduce packaging and comply with inspection is always a big help.”


BY KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]