Taking Out the Trash – Recycling in South Korea

Drop-off schedule with bunny dude

One of the things I notice and appreciate about Korea is their commitment to recycling.  It seems like everywhere I go, trash is separated for recycling.  Back home, if I go to a fast food place, you just chuck everything into one “garbage” can and that’s it.  No separating of recyclable items.  However, in Korea it seems as though no (or very few) restaurants or stores have single garbage cans.  Everything needs to be separated into plastic, paper, and general garbage bins.  It’s no different at home.  All garbage needs to be split up before getting rid of it.  You also need to be careful about it too, because if sanitation finds out you are being careless about recycling, they just won’t pick up your bag.

All garbage needs to be split out into the following groups:
  1. Paper/cardboard (mainly cardboard)
  2. Glass (though I forgot to mention this in my video)
  3. Plastic
  4. Aluminum cans
  5. General garbage (including perishables)
Splitting up the garbage is not really the hard part.  Once you get used to it, it is just a habit.  The hard part (for me at least) is finding the best way to store everything between each drop-off.  Plastic trash bags here in Korea are much different than back home in the states.  I personally haven’t found the Glad-type, big trash bags.  Instead they have moderate sized bags that are not flexible and also not as inexpensive as back home.  They are essentially the plastic shopping bags you get when you go grocery shopping or something.  They do have little flaps at the top for tying though which makes it convenient.  There are no huge boxes of trash bags where you get 80-100 bags for a cheap price.  Mostly in bunches of 10-20 here.
Splittin’ it up
I usually don’t buy bags.  Instead I just recycle the ones I get from the stores.  For aluminum cans (tuna, canned veggies, etc.) I use a large zip-lock bag that comes with chicken breasts I buy from Costco.  They hold a lot of cans and also lock in any odor that would attract flies.  I tend to rinse everything out before I toss it, but the zip-lock really ensures no flies will be camping out in my apartment.
Drop-off closet

I have a schedule for trash drop off.  It is broken out between “recyclable” and “general trash” days.  Saturdays and Sundays there is no trash pick up.  In my building, the owner asks us to put trash in this janitor closet in our hall so they can bring it all down together at the right time to make sure it gets picked up.  If we put the trash outside ourselves, we can miss the trash guys and then the trash is left sitting there.  To avoid this, we just put it in the closet.

One thing I had to learn when coming to Korea was dealing with perishables (egg shells, chicken bones, etc.).  In the small apartments that teachers get, there are no garbage disposals.  So anything you would normally grind up needs to be stored somehow between drop-offs.  When I first got here I just threw everything in the trash.  Well, within a week there were just huge amounts of these little flies in my apartment.  I took an airtight container from my cabinet and began putting all perishables in it and keeping it in the fridge.  Problem solved.


At first, these extra layers of recycling was a bit of a hassle.  I never really had to split stuff out so much at home, and definitely not while out.  Now that I’m used to it, I don’t even think about it anymore.  It’s just part of the day.  I actually appreciate the fact that Korea cares to handle garbage more carefully than other countries.  Now, if they would learn to put trash cans on the streets people wouldn’t use the ground as a recycling bin – but that’s another topic.

Here’s the Video!



  1. That’s how garbage should be sorted out – biodegradable and non biodegradable garbage are separated! I think I can also make schedule of trash pickup so I will be reminded every time. This way, I can also prevent my neighbor’s dog from scattering my garbage in front of the house! Whew! It’ll be too messy and it’ll mean additional work for me. By the way, the cute white rabbit caught my attention. I love pets, especially rabbits!

  2. Plus if you don't separate the perishables, you will attract white rabbits! lol

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