South Korea bans single-use plastic bags at all supermarkets from Jan. 1

Recycling is not a solution.

Zhangxin Zheng | January 1, 06:07 pm

According to Yonhap news agency, the South Korea government will ban the use of disposable bags in all supermarkets and major discount outlets starting from Jan. 1.

The move made is a bid to conserve natural resources and to encourage the use of recyclables in the country.

The ban

2,000 discount outlets and 11,000 supermarkets with minimum sales floor space of 165 square meters will have to stop giving out single-use plastic bags.

Yes, that includes your Lotte outlets.

Instead, these shops have to offer alternatives such as recyclable or reusable containers and bags.

Otherwise, these retailers will face up to three million won, that is about S$3,680.

However, exceptions are made for wet products such as meat and fish where plastic containers can still be used.

Working with the local governments, the Environment Ministry of South Korea will work with the local governments to facilitate the ban on these retailers till March.

Moving forward, this ban will also be applicable to 18,000 bakeries in South Korea and possibly laundry shops where plastic garment bags are used.


South Korea implemented the ban as a result of its struggling domestic recycling industry and the plastic import ban from China since late 2017.

South Korea tops the global annual disposable plastic products consumption at 98.2 kg per person.

Although they have one of the highest recycling rates in the world of more than 50 per cent, China’s refusal to take in plastic waste has left South Korea with piles of recyclables that have nowhere to go to.

With the biggest buyer of plastic waste leaving the game, the price of plastic waste plunged.

Seeing negligible profits to gain from this recycling business, domestic recyclables collectors also lost their motivation to continue their collection, leaving waste to pile on the streets.

All of these prompted the government to intervene to provide subsidies to support the domestic recycling industry and to consider ways to reduce plastic consumption.

Reduce plastic consumption nationwide

New regulations have been launched gradually since mid-2018.

These included banning the use of disposable plastic cups in cafes since August 2018. Cafes that violated the ban face a fine of up to two million won (S$2,400).

Buildings have to stop giving out plastic umbrella sleeves but to provide umbrella dryers and have water absorbent carpets instead.

The South Korea government also aimed to phase out disposable cups and straws at cafes and public areas gradually by 2027.

Top photo by Anakjajan

About Zhangxin Zheng

Zhangxin’s favourite pastime is singing Mulan’s soundtrack in the mangrove forests. She hopes to perfect the art of napping in a hammock in the mangroves without being drowned by rising sea levels.

Morning Commute

Interesting stories to discuss with your colleagues in office later