Being Environmentally Friendly in Korea

To be honest I’ve never really been someone who was overly aware or concerned with environmental issues when we were back in the UK. It just wasn’t something I thought about. Since living in Korea, however, a combination of things has resulted in Jod and I thinking a lot more about our environmental footprint and the impact our actions have on the wider world around us.

Part of it is probably down to the fact that we have to be much more aware of how and what we recycle (Korea is awesome in this respect!) as there are strict sorting rules for all trash including pastic, paper, glass, metal and food waste. If you’re trash isn’t sorted correctly, the bin men won’t take it. Simple as. Plus, trash bags here are clear so if you’re trying to sneak a banana peel or milk carton in with your non-recycleable waste, they’ll know and will leave you an angry note and possibly a fine.

Another part of our change in mindset is due to having a lot more time on our hands than we did back home. We have hours between classes that we can fill watching documentaries like Cowspiracy, After the Spill and Blue Planet 2. Coupled with a wider interest in international news now that we live abroad, we’ve definitely been thinking a lot more about taking responsibility for our own actions when it comes to the wider world.

Although Korea’s recycling programme is excellent, the fact that China recently decided to stop processing so much plastic for recycling from around the world means that we need to use less plastic altogether. Recycling should really be the last option before landfil! Here are a few ways we’ve cut down on our plastic use here in Korea.

Straws

Every single drink in Korea seems to come with a disposable straw, wether that’s in a convenience store, cafe or restaurant. We used to buy at least 2 iced coffees every morning on our way to school (it’s been averaging around 34 degrees every day…) and would throw the straws away without thinking about it. All the news articles about Starbucks pledging to remove  disposable straws  made me look into the issue a bit more. I had no idea that straws are often too light to be effectively picked up in recycling processes so many end up in the ocean where they can irreprably damage marine life. We bought some stainless steel straws and now keep two in our bags, and two at home so that we can sip our iced coffee in comfort wherever we are, without worrying about disposable straws ending up in the noses of sea turtles.

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Reusable Bottles/Cups

As well as plastic straws, drinks in korea always come in disposable, takeaway-style cups, even if you’re sitting in a cafe. There also seems to be a misconception that the tap water isn’t safe to drink here. In a 2015 survey, only 10% of Koreans said they regularly drink tap water and we see huge crates of bottled water being delivered to other apartments in our building. Not only is the cost of always drinking bottled water incredibly high, it’s also terrible for the environment as plastic water bottles take hundreds of years to break down. It’s also completely unncessary as tap water here is completely safe to drink! It actually undergoes more rigorous monitoring and benchmarking than tap water in the US (see previous link). If you’re really concerned you can obviously use something like a water filter jug that are easily available here, but we don’t bother with that.

We keep a stainless steel jug in the fridge filled up with tap water at all times so that it’s nice and cold whenever we want a drink, and we carry reusable water bottles around with us so that we don’t have to purchase bottled water when we’re out and about. There are always water fountains in parks and on hiking trails here so filling them up is no problem. We’ve also got thermos bottles for keeping our coffee hot in the winter, and can use these at coffee shops like Starbucks, Holly’s, Ediya and any other takeout coffee place.

CSA Vegetable Box

One of the things that we noticed straight away on moving here is the amount of plastic that’s used in fruit and vegetable packaging. For instance, in our local convenience store, a single banana comes on a polystyrine tray covered in cling film… it’s mind boggling! Our local supermarkets also package up all fresh produce to an astronishingly pointless degree, and the only place we can get (some) plastic-free fruit and veg is the closest LotteMart (about a ten minute bus ride away). It’s obviously a bit of a pain for us to bring back loads of stuff on the bus, especially if it’s busy, so we managed to find an alternative solution.

The Gachi CSA from Veggiehill is an organic vegetable delivery box that arrives at your house once a week. There’s no plastic, everything’s in season and you can add on fruit and eggs too if you like – although that takes the cost of a couples box from a reasonable £20 per week to £45! I wasn’t kidding when I said in a previous entry that fruit is EXPENSIVE here.

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Toiletries

K-beauty is a huge trend around the world and the amount of makeup/haircare/toiletries available here is enough to make anyone’s jaw drop. Sadly though, it does tend to come with a ridiculous amount of plastic packaging that often can’t be reused as anything useful. To combat this, we’ve switched over from shower gel and our usual smellies to bar soap (this one, from L’Occitane), bar shampoo (this one, from Lush) and bar conditioner (this one, again from Lush). We’re also planning to switch to bamboo toothbrushes this week as soon as I get chance to make an iHerb order, as we haven’t been able to find any in shops over here.

…And that’s just the start of the changes we’ve been making.We still have a long way to go to reduce our waste and our future plans include things like re-using shipping boxes in craft projects with kids at school, getting some muslin cloths so that I don’t need to use cotton rounds to take off my makeup, making or puchasing eco-friendly cleaning products when ours run out, getting a tofu press  so that we don’t need to use paper towels and transitioning to a more plant-based diet. Watch this space!

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