Students are confused on what they should throw away in the trash cans and can also struggle to find the correct waste bins on campus, but the current situation at CUK reflects a bigger problem in Koreas waste disposal politics.
By looking at different waste bins in the CUK campus, there is a clear misconception on how and what to recycle. There is often two categories, General trash and Cans/ Plastic. These two bins seem to be filled with similar types of trash, with no major difference between them. Trash cans can also be hard to find on campus and are sometimes oddly placed.
Because I’m a newly arrived exchange student, I’m far from understanding most of the language. Some trash cans on campus are labelled in Korean, so you must guess where to throw the trash. It took me around two weeks to understand where to throw my garbage around campus. The lounge room in the Dormitory Stephan has no trash cans, so you have to go straight outside and go left to find the waste disposal area. There is a little trash can there that says ramen waste, which often seems hidden. On my floor, the ramen waste trash can is not placed with the other trash cans, but instead hides inside the laundry room, which is 30 meters away.
Other foreign students seem to struggle with this as well. “I find more plastic in the general waste bin than in the plastic one” said Federico De Stefano, an Italian exchange student. He thinks the way the school recycles plastic is good, but there seems to be a misunderstanding of what to dispose in the different trash cans. De Stefano also wished for there to be more paper trash bins around the school and that it is difficult to find the correct trash cans for different materials.
A Korean student named Min Young Chu said that she recycles herself, but that CUK students do not seem to have the same mindset. “Last semester it was pretty bad, but its better now,” she said. When asked about what could be done to change the mindset, she said that it’s difficult, but maybe more education about the subject could work.
The amount of waste people throw away can also be noticed here at CUK. During the weekend, trash is piling up and overflowing in the trash cans, as no one empties them, showing that it only takes a little time before there is trash everywhere. CUK should take the responsibility to educate the students on how the system works at school.
For example, there could be more labels and waste bins at different locations. Some disposal areas in school doesn’t always include all the different recyclable materials, meaning that foreign students don’t know exactly what can be recycled here in Korea. This is especially necessary at the dormitories where many exchange students live.
Being from Sweden, I wasn’t surprised by the difference of recycling here at CUK. In my home University, there is a lot of different trash cans with labels ranging from metal to food waste. According to an article from the Independent, Sweden has spent years educating the people on recycling and its benefits, even burying waste containers underground to preserve space and get rid of smells.
Recycling isn’t really as big of a part of the culture here in Korea, but the individual can’t be fully blamed. An article by CNN states that the Korean Ministry of Environment says there are 1,2 million tons of illegal waste dumped all over Korea. Korea also exports most of its trash to other countries because it’s too expensive to dispose of, leading to the government having to accept more burning of waste. This has garnered criticism from Greenpeace, claiming that the burning of trash will further increase the air pollution in Korea.
Korea has one of the largest per capita plastic consumption rates in the world. Its calculated to be around 137 kg per capita, surpassing USA and China at 93 kg and 58 kg. A small solution could be that each person should think about reusing plastic cups and other types of plastic, but the plastic industry is the bigger problem. Plastic wrapping is everywhere in Korea. It wraps around fruit, vegetables, ramen cups, snacks, etc. Sometimes you can even find plastic wrapping inside plastic bags. This adds to the huge amount of trash that’s getting exported from Korea, even leading to illegal dumping outside of Korea.
The Korea Herald describes in one of their articles that last year in Korea the huge amount of waste was getting more awareness when China no longer decided to import trash from Korea, leading to waste piling up in the streets.
Because of the crisis, people became more aware of waste disposal and their own consumption. Reducing one’s plastic consumption and single-use products is a growing movement, but it’s also almost impossible to avoid single-use products all together in Korea because of plastic packaging around food and clothes from online shopping.
The government has decided to cut down on its plastic production with the goal to cut the production by 30% in 2022. In 2030 the number will increase to 50 %. Greenpeace in Korea still says this isn’t enough, saying that they should make more drastic actions to plastic production regulations. Greenpeace insists that the whole “throw-culture” should cease to exist in Korea.
There is a clear connection between CUK and the Korean society when it comes to waste disposal. Everybody has a responsibility when it comes to our consumption of single-use products, but CUK should take the education about the subject more seriously. Show students how the system works, put up more labels in English, place more trash cans around campus containing more variation on recyclable materials.
The current situation at CUK is affecting the image of the school, giving both foreign and Korean students a loss of pride in their university. If the university is willing to make the situation better, it will have a great impact on the newly arrived students every semester.
CUK can improve their waste disposal by educating all students about where and how to throw away their trash. To solve this situation, more needs to be done than just moving the ramen waste closer to the other trash cans.