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People shouting “Plastic-Free”

In a cafe in Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, which has been in business since 2017, you cannot find disposable items such as plastic cups, straws, paper cups, and wet tissues. Not only at the store, but also customers who want to wrap a pretty cake with blueberries or green grapes are put in an airtight container or a silver pot used at home, not in a disposable box.

However, the sales of the cafe, which was popular without plastic, was hit directly by COVID-19. Gil Hyeon-hee, who runs a cafe, said, "After the spread of COVID-19, sales have decreased by 30% less than usual and 70% more than usual."

With the re-proliferation of Corona 19, the discharge of disposable items in food and beverage stores is expected to increase rapidly. Coffee shops focused on takeout (packaging and selling) services and started delivering. There are still people who shout “Plastic Free,” a life without plastic, even in a situation where sales drop sharply unless it is packaged and sold using disposable products. They said, “Corona 19 is also a problem of the environment. Disposable products are not an alternative.”

Although it is difficult to pay rent at the store, Gil has no plans to use disposable items. He said, “I tell customers that plastic packaging is not allowed.'These days, it is corona, so you can use disposable items. Some people told me that the regulations were lifted,” he said. “It is true that there are difficulties in terms of economics, but there is no plan to use disposable products.”

Gil said recently on the cafe Instagram: "These days, a notice that a package or delivery app will be launched at a nearby cafe is not boring. Even so, I strongly agree with the idea that I should do business, but on the other hand, I am really worried about this district."

At 'Earth Us,' a plastic free cafe in Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, customers are putting food in a multi-disposable container. (Earth Us)

Cafes' efforts to reduce disposables have gained great popularity in recent years. This is because, as interest in climate change has increased, more and more people are willing to join the plastic-free life. The government also regulated the use of disposable products such as cafes with the aim of reducing the use of disposable products by 35% by 2022, but the situation has changed since COVID-19. The Ministry of Environment has temporarily allowed the use of disposable items in restaurants, cafes, and fast food restaurants in airports and stations from February this year.

From the 30th of last month, the “Strengthened Distance Step 2” (Step 2.5) will be implemented in the metropolitan area, and franchise cafés are only available for package sales all day, and bakery, fast food stores, and general restaurants are only available for package sales after 9 PM. Disposable products are expected to increase rapidly.

Are disposables really safer? In June, 115 public health experts from around the world made a statement saying, ‘The use of multi-use products in the corona era is safe.’ They criticized the plastics and petrochemical industries of trying to weaken environmental regulations in response to COVID-19 and demanded a plastic-free future. “There is nothing particularly hygienic in plastic packaging,” he said. “Disposable plastics are thrown away after use, causing additional problems that can be transmitted to other people, such as cleaning workers.”

Some point out that in the long run, the use of disposable products makes a society vulnerable to viruses such as COVID-19. Kim Yang-hee, an activist of the Women's Environmental Solidarity, said, "Considering that environmental pollution caused by disposable plastic waste and the outbreak of novel infectious diseases such as coronavirus are not irrelevant, it is time to actively strive to reduce the use of disposable products."



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