Sunday, December 12, 2010

"What the hell are we supposed to do with all our trash?"

is one of the first questions bewildered waygooks ask themselves after cozying into a new one-room, loading it with E-mart necessities, and trying to figure out what to do with the heap of paper and plastic in the corner. You could live here for 10 years and not know the answer. A brief walk around just about any part of Daegu or its suburbs will reveal that there's no one way to do it; some use city bins, others use city bags, and others just use the city itself. What should you be doing? Should you mix it all together and tie it up tight? Should you make the effort to sort it yourself? Should you leave it loosely bound so that some wandering grandma can sift through it for recyclables?

Before answering these questions as I thoroughly as I can, I'd like to give a few general tips:

Throwing anything out, while unavoidable, should be a last resort. The first and most important step to reducing the amount of waste we leave behind is to reduce the amount of waste we take in. This may mean carrying around our own shopping bags; having ziplocs on hand for produce; using a reusable water bottle; eschewing delivery in favor of eating out or cooking; buying fewer processed foods; avoiding mid-size "marts," where many fruits and vegetables come wrapped in plastic and styrofoam (head instead to a street market, a big traditional market, or even a megastore); dumpster-diving in front of apartments (great for glass jars!); sharing with friends who live nearby; buying used goods whenever possible; and making everything you have go that extra mile.

After that, make sure to donate or resell anything useful rather than throwing it out. There are always needy waegookins who will be happy to take things off your hands when you move out, and there are also lots of used furniture markets (Ch'ilseong, for one) that will gladly take and re-sell your furniture. Buy the Book runs a monthly "swaporama" flea market, and the Beautiful Store (more info around this site) will accept most donations.

Then, if you really have to throw stuff out:


Do your best to sort and recylce. If you're lucky enough to live in an "Apateu," things should be pretty clear. You may have bins that look like this, which tell you where to put what:

The good news is, even if you don't have the bins, your landlord is probably paying someone to come pick up your garbage every so often. You can sort it just as if you had your own bins. Separate different varieties of recyclables into different plastic bags, and make sure that the contents are visible so that the workers can handle them properly. Here are the details:

PAPER / 종이:
-Newspapers (please tie into bunches less than 30cm thick)
-Books, notebooks, paper shopping bags, calendars (please remove plastic coverings, notebook springs, etc before disposal)
-Milk and juice boxes, paper cups (please dry before disposal)
Boxes (snacks, pizza and chicken boxes, corrugated cardboard).
**NO toilet paper or tissues - these go with the normal trash.

PLASTIC / 플라스틱:
-PET bottles (beverages, beer, water, soy sauce)
-PE (big bowls, baskets)
-Synthetic resins (shampoo bottles, detergent containers, "yagurt" bottles, Yoplait containers, Bulgaris bottles, makkeoli bottles, etc)
-Big bowls (Rubber flower pot type things)
-Fertilizer sacks, PVC pipes, styrofoam.
-Anything that has a PET, HDPE, LDPE, PP, PS, PVC, or OTHER recycling logo.

GLASS (Bottles)/ 유리(병):
-Beer, Soju, soft drinks, other drinks, etc
**PLEASE remove bottle caps, and please don't stick cigarette butts in.
**PLEASE be careful not to break any glass, or to mix broken glass in with other trash.

CANS (Iron, Aluminum) 캔 (철, 얼미늄):
-Iron and aluminum (ones used for food and beverages)
-Other cans (Butane gas cans, pesticide cans).
**PLEASE crush cans before disposal. If the can is pressurized, poke a hole in it first. Tabs can be placed inside the can.

METALS / 고철:
-Scrap iron (tools, iron plates)
-Non-ferrous metals (nickel-silver, stainless steel, wires, aluminum, window sashes)

**PLEASE wrap items up to prevent them from mixing.
**You can disassemble umbrellas, chairs, etc and recycle the metal parts.

-Other non-clothing items (carpet, leather bags, dress shoes, blankets and comforters, diaper covers)
**Items too large for the bin should be placed in bags or tied up. Buttons, zippers, etc should be bagged and kept separate.

-Single use plastic bags. This includes the black plastic bags you get when buying food on the street as well as the clear bags you get when buying fruit and vegetables in the stores. It also includes the plastic that's used to secure fruits, vegetables, and sides dishes to styrofoam plates.
-Ramen bags, snack bags, etc.
**Before disposal, please put all your small bags into bigger plastic or paper bags so that the wind won't scatter them.

FOOD / 음식물 쓰레기:
Everything EXCEPT bones and shellfish shells.

Used Cooking Oil / 폐식용유
Can go in bins that look like this:

Batteries / 건전지
Can go in bins that look like this:

Appliances, electronics, furniture, and other big stuff:
- Strongly consider donation, if feasible.
- If not, visit the apartment office and tell them what you need to toss. They'll look up the disposal fee (usually around 5,000 won), and once you've paid it, you can attach a sticker to the item in question and leave it outside. A third party will come to pick it up; there's no telling where it'll go.

Stuff that you really have to throw out:
- Can be tied up in city disposal bags, which look like this:

You can purchase them at many small "supers," most mid-size "marts," and at the big stores as well, in various sizes . They're cheap and usually come in packs of five or ten.

In case you're wondering what this bag says:

1. After filling the bag with your trash and tying it up, you may leave it on the street for pick-up between 8PM and 1AM.
2. As there is no trash pick-up on Sundays, please don't leave bags out on Saturday.
3. If you fail to use a city bag to dispose of your waste, you may be fined up to 1 million won.
4. So that the contents of bags of recyclables can be easily distinguished, please use clear bags or sort them yourself.
5. You may be fined for disposing of food waste in this bag. To dispose of food waste, please use designated food waste bags. [Usually available at the same locations.]

Useful language:
When throwing stuff out:
Where should I put this? 이건 어디에 넣으면 돼요?
Can this be recycled? 이건 재활용이 돼요?

When trying to avoid accumulating plastic bags while shopping:
Please put it in here [hold out your reusable bag]. 여기 넣어 주세요.
You don't need to give me a plastic bag. 비닐 봉지를 안 주셔도 돼요.
I have my own bag. 전 봉지를 갇고 있어요.
I hate plastic. I'm begging you, please don't give me a plastic bag. 전 비닐 싫어요. 비닐 봉지를 제발 주지 마세요.
Thank you for understanding. 이해해 주셔요 감사합니다.

When looking for city trash bags:
Do you sell trash bags? 쓰레기 봉투를 팔아요?
Do you sell food waste disposal bags? 음식물 쓰레기 봉투를 팔아요?

The Story of Stuff - A brief video (actually, a series) about the relationships between trash, recycling, consumerism, the environment, and our health.

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash
- Elizabeth Royte's quest to find out where an average American's waste ends up.

"Full-of-happiness Bokhyeon Woobang Town's Recyclable Item Separation and Disposal Notice." featuring implorations such as "We kindly request your assistance in helping us becoming a rule-abiding Woobang Town."(In Korean) - Page 1 and Page 2