Before COVID-19, there was another imminent pandemic at hand — Korea’s plastic waste. On December 9, 2020, the Korean government proposed more strenuous measures in reducing plastic waste, claiming that plastic waste will have decreased 20 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030. The aim of the Ministry of Environment is that greenhouse carbon emissions caused by plastic waste will be actively reduced to 50 percent as part of an ultimate vision for a plastic-free society. The Ministry of Environment confirmed that “piles of plastic trash started to increase explosively” after China banned global imports of all foreign waste in 2018. The ban was a wake-up call for nations depending on China to push aside concern for taking their own active measures in devising proper infrastructures to manage and reduce plastic waste. Korean industries were unable to manage the plastic waste, leading to plastic trash being dumped in the countryside where several hundred thousand tons now reside. Green Korea activist Bae Sun-young remarked that after the outbreak of the coronavirus, “All of a sudden, the entire recycling process and efforts were dropped by the government,” causing plastic waste to increase by 14.6 percent and vinyl waste by 11 percent due to the upsurge in food delivery and courier services since last year. Although the government has shown efforts to shift focus back to reducing waste, environmental organizations have raised criticism claiming that there are no policies aimed at eliminating the production of plastic. They argue that while strengthening regulations on disposable delivery containers and innovation of the disintegration of materials are positive for the environment, there were no policies attending to the cause of the problem – limiting the production of disposable plastics. The Green Party of Korea officially stated that reduction in plastic use will only happen effectively when the government establishes a social system that does not rely on plastic or one-use disposables and calls for “blocking the source” policies.
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