|In this July 2020 file photo, cases of label-less bottled water are stacked for sale at a store in Seoul. Making such bottles has been named by the government as one of the top three environmental policies implemented this year. Yonhap|
By Ko Dong-hwan
The Ministry of Environment has named the three most effective environmental policies implemented so far this year: making plastic water containers label-less, recycling transparent plastic water bottles separately and offering cheaper detergent for those who prefer refills over buying new products.
The ministry's special committee for "successful administrative cases" selected the three policies from ten candidates during a screening process that occurred April 13-15, based on votes by volunteers and government officials.
The plastic water containers had previously been sold with labels wrapped around them, which was criticized by some environmentally conscious consumers for inconvenience in terms of recycling. The first policy allows manufacturers to put product information on caps. For bottles that are packaged in a case of six or more, wrapped in a vinyl wrapper, such information can also be put on the wrapper.
This policy has been effective in several ways: it has saved consumers the hassle of removing the sticky labels when recycling the bottles; it has also reduced plastic waste by not producing the labels in the first place. The ministry said that if all (approximately) 4.2 billion plastic water bottled products sold in 2019 had been replaced with label-less ones, it would have saved 24.6 million tons of plastic waste.
This policy has also reduced the financial burden for water bottle manufacturers, as they can now pay less of the legally required fees for recycling their products. The ministry said that the policy will support 15 bottled water manufacturers in Korea ― the fees of which amounts to 10.2 billion won ($9 million) ― by slashing the fees by 5 billion won, or 330 million won per manufacturer.
The ministry's standard on assessing recyclability, revised in December 2020, grades label-less or cap-label products as the best recycling materials.
|In this March 15 file photo, Environment Minister Han Jeoung-ae, second from left, poses next to clothes made from recycled plastic bottles, which will be the new sportswear for members of the Army, at the Hotel President in Seoul. Yonhap|
For the second policy, transparent water bottles, categorized as a "high-quality recyclable material," started being collected separately in residential communities nationwide in December 2020. The collected bottles could be cut up into chips, made into fibers, and then used to make clothes or other products.
The environment and defense ministries, as well as the National Police Agency, signed a 450 million-won purchase deal in March for uniforms made from recycled transparent water bottles. The Defense Ministry bought 10,000 uniforms and the police agency 2,000. The clothes range from summer exercise uniforms to casual working uniforms.
This policy has also led to the establishment of a waste treatment system by which 100,000 tons of transparent water bottles from the country's eight major recycling depots (40 percent of the depots' entire recycled waste) can be collected and recycled.
For the third successful policy, the ministry launched a model business called, "Eco Refill Station," in which people can refill their detergent containers at discount prices. After completing the design of the machine in September 2020, the ministry began to cooperate with those who can develop such machines as well as those interested in operating them. The machines were eventually installed in 10 venues, including local superstores like Emart.
The project is expected to reduce over 77,000 kilograms of plastic each year by encouraging people to keep their detergent bottles, which they need for refilling. The refill stations have also sold detergent at about 39 percent of the original price.
Vice Minister Hong Jeong-kee said that the ministry "will further try to discover successful administrative cases that have effectively helped the daily lives of people in Korea, mitigating the clash of interests and reforming regulations."