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The plastic collection turmoil has already begun

The 'garbage crisis' is imminent. Waste is pouring out due to the spread of Corona 19 and the expansion of 'untact' consumption. Oil was poured into the fire as oil prices fell and demand for waste recycling declined. Waste recycling companies complain that it is difficult to "hold up any more." When they let go of their hands, trash can only accumulate in the neighborhood.

The problem is not coming at you; it has already come.

COVID-19 has made Korea an anti-compulsive 'delivery addiction' society. It is a familiar scene to drink even a cup of coffee as a social distancing.

Mr. Kim, a representative of a recycling waste collection company said, "The amount of waste has doubled exactly since COVID-19." Kim's company collects 50,000 households of waste, taking 250 tons of plastic and 90 tons of vinyl every month. It has doubled compared to last year when there was no COVID-19.

Crude oil collapse → plastic price↓ → no recycled plastic

On the 10th, a recyclable waste drop-off center located in Gangdong-gu, Seoul. A lot of waste is piled up. (Reporter Kang-jun Lee)

Recycling waste from households goes through a total of three steps. Recycling, collection and transportation companies collect the quantity from the residential area and store it in an intermediate drop-off. Here, recycled wastes are delivered to intermediate processing companies divided by item. The processed products are transferred to final processing companies, and fibers extracted from plastic are sold to clothing companies, and pulp from waste paper is sold to paper companies and tissue paper manufacturers.

The problem was caused by China's failure to import plastic waste in the aftermath of the US-China trade war, and the plunge in plastic raw material prices due to falling crude oil prices. Export roads were blocked, stocks were piled up, and it was cheaper to make new products from crude oil than recycled plastics, so manufacturers were not looking for recycled products.

As recycled waste became inextricable, it was the recycling collector that was first affected. As the final treatment company did not receive the 'goods', the intermediate processing and processing companies and the intermediate collection sites also stopped receiving waste. In this situation, the congestion of waste volumes caused by COVID-19 has become a part of the company's responsibility.

Collectors such as Kim's company started waiting at the pick-up yard by paying a'fee per kg' instead of receiving money. This is because if the wastes discharged from the apartments that have already been contracted are not collected anyway within the specified period, a penalty fee must be charged and the contract is terminated. Mr. Kim said, "Even if only plastics and vinyls are taken into account, about 10 million won per month is incurred."

Waste trucks lined up in the yard... "The plastic crisis will begin in Seoul and Incheon."

On the 10th, trucks loaded with waste are waiting in line at a recycling waste intermediate drop-off in Gangdong-gu, Seoul. (Reporter Kang-jun Lee)

As they moved to the intermediate storage, the increased amount of waste came more seriously. Vehicles loaded with waste were waiting in line for more than an hour, unable to put things down. It was because the amount of waste from the cars in front was too large and it took too long to get it down.

Mr. Kim said, "This is a chain. As the amount of recycled waste increases due to COVID-19, it takes a long time to collect things and it takes more time to put them down at the drop-off."

Recycling industry officials, including Kim, warned that "the plastic crisis has already begun." This is because there are more and more places where stores that could not handle the quantity refused or went into 'shutdown' altogether.

On the 10th, a pick-up truck moves the plastic waste separated and collected at an intermediate collection point for recycling waste located in Gangdong-gu, Seoul. (Reporter Kang-jun Lee)

With the rapid increase in recycled waste, collection work has already been delayed in apartment complexes in downtown Seoul, and civil complaints from residents are increasing. As a result of a survey focusing on waste treated by public facilities by local governments across the country, in the first half of this year, paper production averaged 889 tons per day, an increase of 29.3% from the same period last year. During the same period, plastics increased 15.6%, vinyl increased 11.1%, and foamed resins (styrofoam) increased 12%. This figure excludes apartment complexes, which are general large-scale residential facilities. Considering the recent surge in delivery demand, the growth rate is estimated to have increased even further in 2H.

An official from the Ministry of Environment said, "Since the amount of waste discharged from the private sector such as apartment complexes is counted on an annual basis by companies, it is difficult to grasp the monthly increase."


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