If you just landed in Korea and are planning to stay for a while, you might have noticed that garbage disposal in South Korea works a little differently than it does in other countries. But no worries! This article will help you understand everything you need to know about garbage disposal and recycling in Korea.

Garbage Bags

There are various types of garbage bags in South Korea. One important matter to remember is that each district has its own official garbage bag so you will have to use the one that is exclusive to the neighborhood you live in. (i.e. You can’t use a bag for Gangnam-Gu in Seongdong-gu).

General Waste Bag (일반 쓰레기 봉투)

These bags are generally white or green, but the color can vary in some districts.

People who live in Korea should put all the waste in this bag but separate the recyclable waste.

Food Waste Bag (음식물 쓰레기 봉투)

These bags are for food waste, and they were introduced in order to make the citizens of South Korea more conscious about the amount of food they throw away.

Recyclable Waste Bag (재활용 쓰레기)

You don’t need a special bag for recycling because you will usually separate recyclable waste in different containers. If your location does not provide separate recyclable bins, you can collect all your recycling in any plastic bag and then leave it in the designated area.

If you can’t find the recycling bins area, ask your landlord or your building management office. In some instances, they are not located in the same area as the general and food waste areas.

Where to Buy Garbage Bags

These special garbage bags are available in convenience stores, chain supermarkets, or your friendly neighborhood marts. However, please be noted that any garbage bags are only available in bulk (20 bags are 1 set).

How to ask for Garbage Bags (In case there are not on display)

일반 쓰레기 봉투 있어요?

(il-ban sseu-le-gi bong-tu iss-eo-yo?) = Do you have general waste garbage bags?

음식물 쓰레기 봉투 있어요?

(eum-sig-mul sseu-le-gi bong-tu iss-eo-yo?) = Do you have food waste garbage bags?

After you asked, if they have available they will ask you either of these two questions (or both)

Types Of Waste/Garbage

General Waste (일반 쓰레기)

General waste is everything that doesn’t belong in the recyclables or food waste categories. General waste includes used tissue, used toilet paper (in the cases where you don’t flush it down the toilet), sanitary pads, old shoes and clothes, etc

Recyclable Waste (재활용 쓰레기)

Recyclable waste is actually quite easy to classify because most packages include a recycling symbol that indicates in which type of container the waste belongs to.

Paper Pack (i.e. juice, milk, etc)

Glass (i.e. Beer bottles)

Cans (i.e. aluminium or Iron)

Paper (i.e. printing paper, magazines, newspaper, boxes, cartons, etc.)

Plastic (NOT including Toys, stationery pens, small candy wraps)

PET Bottles

Vinyl (i.e. snack bags, dessert wraps, etc)

Food Waste (음식물 쓰레기)

Food waste includes anything edible. However, you just have to follow the golden rule of: “If an animal will eat it, then it goes in the food waste bag

(i.e. fruit peel, vegetable peel, watermelon skin, uneaten cooked or uncooked meat, raw egg without the shell, etc)

DON’T INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING IN FOOD WASTE:

The exceptions for food waste are egg shells, crustacean shells (Crab, Lobster, Shrimp, etc), clam shells, onion and garlic paper-like skin, animal bones (beef, pork, chicken, lamb, etc), tea bags or tea leaves. All of these are considered GENERAL WASTE.

Oversized Waste (대형 쓰레기)

As the name states, oversized waste is waste that is too big to be collected in a conventional garbage bag. Examples include refrigerators, induction cookers, TVs, air conditioners, gas ranges, big furniture like bed mattresses, sofas, desks, coffee tables, microwaves, washing machine, etc.

For oversized waste, you have to contact your local district office and request an oversized garbage disposal. When you call, the office will ask you about the type and size of the waste. Afterward, the office will provide you with a sticker to place on whatever you are planning to dispose of. Place the oversized object in the designated area on the appointed date and it will be taken care of.

You also can do this process online (most districts have an English version). To do this, just go to your district’s official website, look for an oversized garbage disposal tab, select the type of object, select your way of payment, credit or bank transfer, and then print the sticker and attach it on the object. Afterward, place your oversized waste in the designated area on the appointed date.

Collection Time & Place

Garbage disposal times and locations in South Korea depend on each district. To check when the collection times are, you can ask your landlord, real estate agent, or the building management office. Also, be sure to check for information on the garbage bags themselves – as they should note the designated day and hour of disposal each week. If you’re unable to find this information in any of the places mentioned above, you also can look up information on your district website.

Even though the day of the week may be different among districts, the time of garbage pickup is typically after sundown (7:00PM-ish or 8:00PM) until early in the morning next day (5:00 AM).

Penalties

If you don’t comply with these regulations, you will have to pay a fine, and depending on where you live they can be up to ₩300,000 (around USD$300 if you take ₩1,000 = USD$1).

Garbage disposal in Korea can be a little bit confusing and annoying at first. However, bear with it as South Korea is trying to take action in reducing its carbon footprint.