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How to shop plastic-free in Korea, after plastic bag ban at supermarkets Updated: 2019-04-03 07:08:42 KST

Time now for our "Life & Info" segment where we focus on information useful for your everyday life whether you are in Korea or somewhere else in the world.
Beginning this week, the South government has banned large supermarkets and retailers in the country from offering disposable plastic bags.
We have our Oh Soo-young with us to fill us in on what to expect the next time you go shopping.
So Soo-young, first remind us of this policy. As shoppers, what can and can't we do?

Well, Mark. We can no longer purchase a plastic bag or get one for free from a supermarket like Emart, Lotte Mart or Home Plus.
They're also banned from department stores, shopping malls and grocery stores larger than 165 square meters.
You can only buy reusable bags, or paper bags that are recyclable -- so those thick glossy ones with UV coating aren't allowed to be sold either.

Right, and it doesn't just affect bags you buy at the till. A lot of people put their fruit and vegetables in those smaller super thin plastic bags often excessively and they are banned too I hear

Exactly. I've been guilty of that myself. So the government is banning the use of plastic roll bags within supermarkets for nearly all products.
There are exceptions when it comes to food that can easily melt or leak such as packets of tofu, clams or ice cream, as well as loose vegetables that are covered in dirt.
Prepacked meat, fruit and veg are strictly under the plastic bag ban.
And how are people reacting to this?
A poll released this week by Greenpeace actually shows about nine out of ten members of the public do seem to agree with a ban on plastic products, not just plastic bags, but translating convictions into practice isn't easy of course so I got some mixed reactions on this policy.

(Korean- )
"It's so inconvenient. How are we going to carry our groceries now? It's a problem, especially for older people like me."

(Korean- )
"I've seen people carry reusable bags, but sometimes you're just in a hurry. And restricting roll bags? The policy's too strict."

(Korean- )
"We need the policy for the sake of the environment, our future, and our children."

It looks like the ban on plastic bags will take some getting used to. Any tips on what to do the next time we go shopping?

Well, there is the option of carrying around a reusable bag with you. You can buy them in supermarkets or there are some with nice patterns and prints out in shops and discount stores in town.
But if you haven't got one with you, you can purchase a trash bag at the check-out till instead.
They're pricier than a paper bag, though, at around 43 cents.
Or, you can use one of the spare boxes stacked at the supermarket to hold your groceries.

The point is to encourage the public to actively reduce their use of plastic, instead of finding ways to find a way around the regulations.

You're right. Despite the ban on plastic bags, and the use of paper cups in cafes, it's clear South Koreans are addicted to all sorts of disposables.

"The typical South Korean uses about 420 plastic bags a year -- and there's nowhere for those bags to go. In Finland, the per capita average is 4 bags a year. The EU's average is around 200 bags a year but it's moving to half that number within the next five years. So Korea's new policy is a positive and much needed change."

I think the key really is making a conscious effort to change our lifestyles.

Exactly. So even the most basic steps make all the difference. For instance, the next time you order food, you could ask them to minimize the packaging or leave out the plastic utensils.
Taking your own mug or flask to a cafe, and looking for products made of biodegradable ingredients and recyclable packaging those may take some extra effort but they're vital steps toward preserving our planet.
Some stores in Seoul are actually have a zero-plastic policy, and sell only biodegradable products, made from recycled wood for instance.
There's also been a number of upcycling stores, selling everything from reusable bags, trendy clothes made from discarded materials, business cards made from milk cartons and even children's toys repurposed from plastic bottles.
If you visit the Seoul Upcycling Plaza in eastern Seoul, you can see all these products,
AND you get to see the upcycling process as they let you watch.
It's definitely a good place to pick up a reusable shopping bag, and also become more eco-conscious while checking out the various displays and exhibitions there.

It sounds like it could be a good place to visit and shop.
Thank you for your report today Soo-young.

Thanks for having me.
Reporter : osy@arirang.com
KOGL : Korea Open Government License
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