Updated: Aug 21, 2020
You can feel the stink stinging from the entrance through the mask. The area from yard to the workshop is full of waste plastic wads and wastes. On one side, heavy equipment are in a pile of garbage, and in the next screening site, the selected waste plastic is dropped into the storage bin below.
After picking out something that can be used like this, there is a waste that can't be used. It's about 30% of the recycled waste collected, and the company has to throw it away again. When the market is good, you can make up for it with money selling recyclables, which is not easy because of COVID-19 and low oil prices. In addition, the cost of waste disposal has been increasing in recent years.
"It was difficult before COVID-19, but now the price of recycled products has dropped by about 40% and it is not selling well... We are at the bottom of the pyramid, so the top recycling companies have to go down when the price goes down. It's no situation. It's a deficit of 6,000 to 7,000 won a month. No matter how much money I borrow, I can't stand it. I have to close the door of the company.
"There are also 400 tons of waste that has not been discarded. Even if you give more money, there is no place to put it out because companies that receive waste do not receive it."
Processing charges for mixed plastics will be charged from August 1st
Eventually, a recycling group that took the lead in the 'plastic waste war' in 2018 came into action.
On the 13th, the Korea Resources Collection and Transportation Association sent an official letter to the Ministry of Environment and Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, and Incheoni, and announced that "As of August 1, processing fees will be charged for bringing in mixed plastics."
Recycling companies are spending a lot of money on disposal of 'residual waste' left behind after screening, and it is difficult to endure as the industry's sales have dropped to half the level in six months due to a one-sided price drop.
Kyung-ro Lee, the central director of the association, said that even at the meeting where dozens of representatives from the nation's recycling companies, including the metropolitan area, gathered earlier this month, the difficult reality and the government's struggle continued.
"I gathered the difficulties and opinions. In the midst of the decrease in sales, the labor cost and the end-of-end cost are the biggest, but the labor cost is not lowered. I can't stand it any longer. Since it is said that the business will be suspended, the solution to the problem was to find a solution.
He says he will not be in full action just like two years ago, but he says there is a high possibility that the 'garbage crisis' will be repeated.
"If you charge at the marina, those who collect and transport will negotiate with the residents of the apartment. If the collection company does not generate income, for example, it is not refused to collect, but gives up. I think such a situation could come."
"In 2018, there was a crisis with just one type of waste plastic, but this time, 6 out of 7 recycled items (except paper) are in serious trouble. I am afraid that there will be more confusion than that."
Nothing is different than two years ago… The 'garbage crisis' will inevitably return
In fact, the recycling waste crisis has been going on for almost half a year since the beginning of this year. The government is also aware of the seriousness. The Ministry of Environment issued a press release on the 17th and announced that "the uncertainty is increasing due to the drop in the price of recyclable items" and is pursuing "expansion of support measures." In the meantime, after a lot of measures, such as public storage of waste plastics, we also came up with a lot of measures.
"Some companies refuse to collect, agitate, collaborate, etc., and act responsibly to people's inconveniences."
It is for this reason that the association is unable to act immediately, and I am not sure if this should be called a solution. And it was really surprising and desperate that I had covered the content after a very long time, but that there was not much that was fundamentally changed. Like some developed countries such as Japan, we do not collect recycled waste publicly, but leave it to the so-called 'market economy'.
It is a way for recycling companies to pay for money by sorting the recycled goods that they buy and paying for waste. It's a great way to do it if market conditions permit, but the recycling market is very vulnerable to internal and external factors. It is a structure in which a crisis has to come periodically.
In addition, the recycling industry is a small field, so many of the first-line collection/selection companies are still unlicensed, and of course it is bound to be more vulnerable to the crisis. This is why fundamental paradigm changes such as the introduction of public collections are needed.
It's not yet clear exactly whether the crisis will really come or not in August, but 'Is recycling companies more selfish? Or is the government irresponsible?' There is no way to stop the 'garbage time bomb' that runs under us as long as we continue to waste time in the same debate.