Single-use plastics to be banned at Han River parks

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Plastic cups and containers will be banned from parks along the Han River in 2025, in an effort by Seoul City to reduce single-use plastics.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced on Thursday comprehensive countermeasures against the surge of single-use plastic containers, sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the measures, the city aims to curb plastic waste by 10 percent and increase the recycling rate by 10 percent. The current recycling rate stands at 69 percent, and the city aims to elevate it to 79 percent by 2026.

Disposable plastic cups are stacked in a franchise coffee shop in Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap

“Growing environmental pollution is a massive problem that is directly connected to the survival of the city and people. So we can’t delay responding to it,” Lee In-keun, the head of the city government’s Climate and Environment Headquarters, said during a press conference.

One of the measures is designating the various Han River parks as plastic-free zones by 2025. With that aim, food trucks at Banpo Hangang Park have changed disposable containers to multi-use ones, according to the city government.

The initiative will be expanded to Ttukseom Hangang Park by 2024 before eventually including all parks along the river by 2025.

Stores in those parks will be exempt from the regulation, but delivery services, used frequently by visitors to the parks, will be subject to it.

To this end, the city government plans to send officials to delivery service pick-up zones at the riverside parks to check if the plan is being implemented properly.

“It will be challenging to impose legal penalties on every store or citizen using disposable containers, but it’s guidance that everyone should follow,” Jung Mi-sun, chief of the Resource Recovery Facilities Bureau of Seoul City, said.

A deposit system for disposable cups will also be introduced in 2025. For coffee shop patrons who opt for disposable cups, an additional 300 won (22 cents) will be charged.

Notably, Sejong City and the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province have been testing a deposit system since December 2022, with promising results ― 3.14 million disposable cups were collected after its implementation.

It is estimated that around 630 million single-use plastic cups are used annually in Seoul’s coffee shops. Transitioning to multi-use cups could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 grams per cup, according to the city government.

The city will also encourage the use of multiuse cups at other facilities such as movie theaters and sports arenas, to cut the number of disposable cups being used by 100 million.

To help increase the recycling rate, Seoul is working on recycling waste plastic as raw materials. The city has signed business agreements with oil and chemical engineering companies to produce fuel oil or recycled materials from contaminated or composite waste plastic bags using pyrolysis technology.

Seoul’s comprehensive approach to tackling its plastic pollution mirrors global efforts to address this pressing issue.

Germany, for instance, has made it mandatory to use multi-use containers in restaurants and delivery services since January. The U.N. has committed to establishing an international agreement to regulate plastic pollution by 2025.

“We hope Seoul can become a model city by reducing the use of plastic and recycling waste resources,” Lee said.

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