Reply To: Korean Apartments: Kiss Your Trash Goodbye

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Korean apartments have a unique system in place for the disposal of trash, recycling, and food waste. Especially coming from North America, it can be surprising to see how small some of the trash pails can be. It may be confusing at first, but once you get it down it’s actually quite convenient. For one, it makes you more conscious of what you’re throwing out and what can be recycled. Here is a breakdown of the different kinds of items you’ll need to learn to separate you dispose of your waste in Korea.

Food Waste

The food you don’t use needs to be separated into a separate container designated for food waste. One option is to get a separate food pail and empty it into the nearest food waste recycling container near your house. That container is not available in all neighborhoods, so you need to ask you landlord. The second option is to get food waste bags and leave them outside for pickup. The bag size and costs are:

  • 3 liter – 240 won/bag
  • 5 liter – 400 won/bag

The bags have the local neighborhood waste pickup service printed on them, so make sure you buy them from a convenience store near your house! If you make the mistake of trying to buy bags on the way home from work in a different area, your bags of food will still be sitting outside of your house the morning after pickup. The trash collectors will only pick up waste if it is in the correct bag.

Trash

The trash pickup program is the big brother to the food waste system. You must purchase bags at your local convenience store and bring them out to the curb on trash day. The bags are clear, so it is possible to see if there are recyclable items inside. Make sure you are separating the items out and not just trashing them. There are cameras on the streets in many neighborhoods and you could get a fine for throwing out recyclable items. As for the bag sizes, you have choices:

  • 10 liter – 190 won/bag
  • 20 liter – 370 won/bag
  • 50 liter – 990 won/bag
  • 100 liter – 1,970 won/bag

Recycling

You need to separate out your cardboard, paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum from the rest of the trash. Some neighborhoods allow you to put these all in one bag or net and the recycling employees will separate it out themselves. Other neighborhoods require you to separate out the items by type of material and put them into different bags. This could be inconvenient since you need a supply of bags and they don’t give them away often at most stores. You could ask for extra when shopping or buy a few (about 20 won each) if the store charges for them. Another option is to order the bags off of a site like GMarket and always have a supply handy. If you live in an officetel or large apartment building, they often have separate bins in the basement where you can separate and discard your recyclable items.

Pickup

Pickup days vary by neighborhood and by the type of apartment you have. For officetels and large apartments, it doesn’t matter. Just bring your waste down to the basement and put it in the appropriate receptacles. If you’re in a house or villa, you need to ask your landlord. Some areas allow you to put out recycling and trash any day you want. Other places are more strict and only have trash pickup on certain days. For example, you may only be able to bring out the trash Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday after 7pm.

What is Recyclable?

There seems to be more a “choose your own adventure” system when it comes to what the recycling workers will pick up. At some houses, they will take almost anything that resembles cardboard, plastic, or paper. In others, they will be really picky and only take the recycling if it meets their guidelines. This could be frustrating at first, so listen carefully to what the landlord says. It is possible that the landlord doesn’t know exactly, so in those cases you need to test it out. You’ll know if your recycling sorting skills need some practice or not when you open your front door and take your first step into a pile of aluminum cans.

Donation Boxes

If you need to get rid of old clothes, look for donation bins in your area. They are usually green metal containers, similar to Goodwill or Salvation Army containers you’d find in North America. The challenging part about finding these bins is that they are not in obvious places and there is no system for where they are placed. They are organized and placed by charity groups who try to raise money for the disabled and the less fortunate. Your best bet is to keep an eye out when you’re walking around and note when you do see one. The Salvation Army does have locations for accepting donations but it’s easier to find a local donation bin.

Removal of Furniture and Appliances

It’s finally time to say goodbye to the old sofa. The two of you have spent some serious time together, but you need to part ways. There’s a younger, more attractive sofa coming in soon, and there isn’t enough space in your apartment for both of them. Nobody on Craigslist wants to give your couch a new home, so what to do? If you need to dispose of old furniture or large items, you can’t just leave them in front of your house. You need to call the appropriate company that handles the disposal for your area. This will differ for each neighborhood. The local government agencies have agreements made with private companies who are assigned to dispose of large items for the area. You can call the Dasan hotline (120), which is a free service for life and tourism in Seoul, to locate those companies. There is a fee for the pickup of your unwanted items, so be ready to have a description of your soon-to-be ex-furniture.

Now that you have the trash system in Korea all figured out, you can tackle that spring cleaning project you’ve been putting off with confidence!