78% of domestic plastic waste comes from food packaging: survey - Korea Times
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78% of domestic plastic waste comes from food packaging: survey

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Workers sort out plastic waste along a conveyor belt at Union Park in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province, in this Sept. 13 photo. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Workers sort out plastic waste along a conveyor belt at Union Park in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province, in this Sept. 13 photo. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Lee Hae-rin

More than seven out of 10 pieces of plastic thrown away by households is food packaging, and the amount of household plastic waste has been increasing, as people have been spending more time at home amid the prolonged pandemic, according to a recent report by Greenpeace Korea.

Greenpeace Korea presented, Wednesday, its survey of 2,671 people from 841 households about domestic plastic garbage. It is the plastic garbage report with the largest-scale public participation so far, according to the group.

According to the report, 78.1 percent of domestic plastic waste comes from food packaging from daily life. Specifically, beverage and dairy products make up 32.5 percent of this food packaging, snacks make up 12.9 percent, and "home meal replacement" plastic waste makes up 7.6 percent.

Following food packaging plastic waste, personal hygiene products such as wipes, shampoo bottles, toothbrushes and rubber gloves, took up 14.6 percent. Of the personal hygiene products, 53.8 percent were disposable face masks that have become a must in the pandemic.

The remaining household plastic garbage includes delivery service packages, plastic bags and ice packs.

According to the report, most household plastic waste is difficult to reuse or recycle.

Plastic waste is being incinerated at Union Park in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province in this Sept. 13 photo. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Plastic waste is being incinerated at Union Park in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province in this Sept. 13 photo. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

More than 47 percent of plastic waste is categorized as vinyl, which is only partially reused and mostly incinerated and buried in landfills. When incinerated, vinyl is known to release hazardous heavy metals such as mercury and lead, as well as carcinogens like dioxins.

Apart from vinyl, only 46.3 percent of plastic waste is made of a single material and can be reused. Whereas, 6 percent of the total plastic waste is made of multiple materials, which makes it difficult or impossible to reuse.

"By participating in this survey, I learned that the plastic waste problem is difficult to solve, no matter how hard I try to recycle at home," a survey participant identified by the surname of Kim said during an in-depth interview with Greenpeace Korea. "I believe companies should stop producing excessive plastic packaging, which only benefits them and not consumers. As a consumer, I demand that large manufacturers reduce their use of plastic more than anything."

As a first step to reducing plastic waste, the environmental organization called for manufacturers to start by disclosing the amount of plastic they produce.

"To mitigate the plastic pollution crisis, large-scale manufacturers must reveal their plastic production and set ambitious targets for plastic reduction. However, so far no companies have presented any goals or roadmaps," said John Yum, a plastic campaigner at Greenpeace Korea.

"The top manufacturers of plastic waste must take the lead in transforming the economic system to not only reduce, but reuse plastic," Yum said.


Lee Hae-rin lhr@koreatimes.co.kr


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