In the dawn of 1995, the South Korean government realized that the waste being produced was growing at an exponential scale that would soon surpass the capacity of its waste treatment facilities. This made them take a step towards a more efficient waste management scheme.
Today, South Korea is counted among the most efficient countries in the world. Their waste system policy is meticulously detailed. Itwas revised in 2003 to mandatethe separation of waste before disposal; this meant that different materials like plastics, metals, leftover food and so on have to be separated into their designated trash bag (which you have to purchase) before disposal. In fact, by failing to comply with these policies, youcan incur a fine of up to 1 million won ($940).
How the system works
Local communities in South Korea has a trash drop off/ recycling location. Wastes must be properly sorted before disposing them at these locations. The wastesare then collected and recycled into other useful materials; leftover food is used for fertilizers and animal feed, metals are used to produce new metals and plastics are remoulded into other plastic materials.
In South Korea, recyclable plastics are identified by numbers ‘2’, ‘4’or ‘5’ clearly written on the plastic container. Plastic such as toys, candy wraps and pens do not fall under this category of recyclable plastics and so, they are disposed. There are five major processes involved in the recycling of plastics and they include;
- Sorting: This process double checks the trash to reinsure that only recyclable plastics are present
- Cleaning: Dirty plastics are difficult to process. It is therefore important that they are properly cleaned.
- Shredding: This involves cutting the plastic scraps into smaller pieces.
- Quality Control: This is done to ascertain the type, characteristics and the quality of the plastic.
- Extruding: Here, the shredded plastic is then melted and moulded into other forms of plastics.
What are these plastic wastes used for?
Do you know that up to 2 billion tons of waste are imported annually into South Korea? For what you may ask? Simply to meet up with the growing energy demand derived from plastic wastes. Solid plastics are being converted into electricity. Currently, Icheon power plant uses methane from landfills to produce electricity.
Companies like Veolia in South Korea are using waste plastic to create alternative fuel sources with high calorific value at very competitive prices. This act reduces incineration at landfills and reduces
Recycled plastics can also be remoulded into other forms of plastics. Plastic bags are suitable for making plastic chairs and tables, plastic bottles are used to make clothes, carpets and more bottles, bottle caps are the perfect candidate for plastic rakes, ropes and so on, and even, plastic foam packaging can be converted to plastic insulations and building product. These and many more materials can be made from recycled plastic.
Plastic takes about 500 years to decompose. These means that failure to reduce plastic wastes will lead to their proliferation that will ultimately result in an uncontrolled environmental pollution.
The South Korean government is taking this seriously and is investing 2% of its GDP on a green growth plan. The act has helped to simultaneously improve their economic and environmental status. In addition, further innovations that will help to make the plastic recycling process more efficient is being sorted after.
This is a call for all of us to embrace plastic recycling like South Korea so as to preserve planet earth for generations yet unborn.
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