South Korea undoes ban on disposable plastic utensils at cafes & restaurants due to Covid-19

Places with high human traffic like airports, ports, train stations and bus terminals are also included in the exemption.

Ashley Tan | February 25, 2020, 11:58 PM

South Korea will be easing restrictions on the usage of plastic disposables in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, officials announced on Feb. 6.

Reducing restrictions on plastic disposables

The country's environment ministry has permitted provincial governments to exercise their own discretion in relaxing these regulations, Yonhap News Agency reported on Feb. 6, 2020.

This temporary exemption will apply to food and beverage outlets such as cafes and fast food chains, as well as places with high human traffic like airports, ports, train stations and bus terminals.

According to Yonhap, the chiefs of local governments can decide if the deregulation should be expanded to include more areas.

Arirang reported that the Seoul Metropolitan Government had allowed the use of disposable plastic dishes, straws and cups in cafes and restaurants.

Officials stated that the use of these disposable items will be permitted until the outbreak ends.

This abrupt change in policy comes in the wake of mounting panic in South Korea, as the virus has spread beyond China and overseas.

Allowing disposables again is aimed at easing public fears over shared amenities.

At the time of the announcement, there have been 23 confirmed cases in the country.

Although it is not confirmed the virus can be transmitted via reusable items, Covid-19 is known to be spread by droplets, and can remain on surfaces for a period of time.

Single-use plastics banned since 2018

South Korea cracked down on single-use plastics since August 2018.

Then, the government announced the banning of disposable plastic cups in cafes.

Cafes that violate the ban can face fines of up to 2 million won (S$2,400).

This amendment to an existing law is part of the government's aim to gradually phase out disposable cups and straws at cafes and public areas by 2027, in a bid to reduce plastic waste, and encourage recycling and conservation.

Supermarkets and major discount outlets like Lotte are also banned from distributing plastic bags, and are instead encouraged to offer alternatives such as recyclable and reusable bags.

Otherwise, these retailers could face fines of up to 3 million won (S$3,680).

The law also prohibits around 18,000 bakeries nationwide from handing out free disposable plastic bags.

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