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Thursday, 7 June 2007

Where are the Garbage Cans in Seoul?

Are you a responsible citizen? Do you like to place garbage in the trash bin or are you a die hard "litter bug"? Anyways, after living in Seoul for 10 months, I have been impressed with their super duper concentrated efforts towards recycling everything. However, one thing I have noticed is that throughout the city, there is a lack of garbage cans.

Down in the subway stations, there are zero garbage cans. The reason for this was to eliminate any chances of terrorist attacks within subway stations. It's a huge pain in the butt when you want to throw away some garbage, but there are absolutely no garbage cans in sight. How did this happen?

Well, the South Korean government developed in 1995 a new garbage disposal system to reduce waste. Part of this involved purchasing standard garbage bags for disposal (different colors according to where you live) which is supposed to reduce the amount of garbage per person. According to an article from the Korean Herald:

The new system was found to have decreased the nation's waste by almost 20 percent in a decade, according to the Ministry of Environment. The amount of garbage per person fell to 0.95 kilograms per day last year in Korea, meeting the standards of developed countries. The figure was 2.3 kilograms per person per day in 1994, when South Korea had loose regulations on waste management.

Alright, so it looks like this new system has been effective--but there's a new problem: random piles of garbage accumulating all over the city because there are no garbage cans! When did they disappear? According to that same article:

Seoul city faced further criticism from citizens in 2005 for abolishing 780 trashcans in 263 subway stations. The city removed all the trashcans on the platforms, only leaving the ones near the ticket windows.

The funny thing is...the garbage cans have all been removed, yet vending machines have stayed. So where should people put their garbage? Most people just leave garbage on benches or throw it onto the floor--there's no other option unless you carry the garbage with you.

So on the weekend while we were meandering around Myeongdong, looking for a garbage can to dispose of my plastic Starbucks cup...I found this friendly little pile of trash:

With every take out cup at Starbucks, 100 won (10 cents US) is added to the cost of your drink. If you return your cup, you get the 100 won back. However, since we were no where near the Starbucks I decided to do something drastic--contribute to the trash pile. Hey, you know what they say..."when in Rome, do as the Romans do". Watch and learn how it's done, people:

If we chose to return to Starbucks, we would get a refund from one of these handy machines. It's based on the "honor system" so you could be evil and get an extra 100 won (I don't know who would do that though--this video is from a previous occasion!). Check out the video to see what I mean:

Do you think having less garbage cans will result in less trash? What do you do with your garbage when you're down in the subway stations?


Helena said...

Hey, at least people are piling it up nicely. I suppose someone's employed to come around and pick it up every once in a while?

Ooh, can you pick out Starbucks cups from the pile and take them all in and get some cash?

lowlight said...

It's like that in Japan too... no garbage cans anywhere!!! So annoying! I have never seen a garbage pile like that though, so I'm not sure where it all ends up.

Redderick Milla said...

Gets on my nerves as well. I wouldn't have thunk it would reduce garbage, but I guess the numbers prove it. Still, I hve seen piles of garbage at the base of every tree in Jogno and major city centers. Myself, I'd much prefer the old school garbage can.

Gary said...

Helena: haha, I was thinking about that. I used to collect pop cans and bottles when I was younger...free money!

Carl: It's the worst when you're sick and you have a runny nose--where the heck am I supposed to put my nasty tissue? Back into my pocket?!

Red: It makes for an eyesore to see random piles of garbage on every street corner. Wouldn't it be easier for the cleaner to pick up a bag?

Unknown said...

Hi! I really love your blog! I just happened to find it today! I can sort of relate to some of the things you mention here since I taught overseas (in Japan) for a few years too.

Anonymous said...


i left seoul 2 months ago, & when reflecting on the ubiquitous garbage scene in korea, as *helena* says, it's decent that at least when a pile is started, the pile grows instead of scattering about. the peasants that pick the garbage up to temporarily tidy up the dirty spot have got a crummy job, pho shizzle. it seems like citizens -- & visitors -- get the hint as to how to dispose of their garbage; it's straighforward enough. when i was prancing through town -- above ground or under -- i'd just carry my gum wrappers or whatnot w/ me in my pockets or daypack. (is it retarded to carry a daypack when wandering seoul??)

about the terrorism threat by putting forth garbage cans, i think that's ridiculous for politicians to think it's relevant to eradicate these purposeful contraptions (garbage cans) so to avoid getting blown to bits. true, people get the hint of where to put garbage, but it takes a lot more time for somebody to clean that s*** up that simply carrying a bag somewhere. ... it makes me think that w/ people getting in the know so quickly about where to slam dunk their garbage, the ministries of WHATEVER don't need to hesitate about spending won for garbage receptacles. i noticed in beijing that many garbage cans don't have bags; the attendant shows up to clean, opens the hatch, & garbage comes flowing out onto the walkway. lovely!!



Jennii said...

Great blog! I'm doing the Korea thing too... I'm in Suwon, which also suffers from multiplying garbage piles syndrom.

The hypocracy is unsettling- The rigid garbage laws and efforts to recycle do not co-operate with the lack of public trash opportunities.

I have seen see-through garbage cans- which seem to be a perfect solution. I don't believe that bomb fear is a valid excuse for a perpetual wasteland.

South Korea (well what I've seen so far) is beautiful and the garbage piles make me discouraged! I witness litter bug action on a daily basis and I believe it's a worse offense than J-walking (which is a major faux-pas).

Sidenote: I'm a newbie to South Korean living and am struggling with the concept of waste disposal... What do I do with my stuff? aghhhh recycling is time-consuming. Any tips would be appreciated.

-garbage catergorically challenged

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