Seoul to closely examine Japan’s trash imports

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Seoul to closely examine Japan’s trash imports


Kim Dong-jin, Environment Ministry’s spokesman, announcing the Korean government’s decision to tighten evaluations of imported recyclable waste on Friday. [YONHAP]

The Korean government has raised restrictions on imports of Japanese trash for recycling.

After tightening imports of coal ash from Japan a week ago, which Korean companies use to make concrete, the government is getting tougher on imports of three categories of recyclable trash: batteries, tires and plastic.

According to the Korean Environment Ministry, it will be inspecting levels of radiation and heavy metal pollution in imported recyclable trash on a monthly basis or even more frequently. Inspections used to be conducted every quarter. If violations are detected, the material will be returned to the country of origin.

Under current regulations, levels of cesium 134, cesium 137 and iodine 131 have to be less than 0.1 Becquerel (Bg) per gram.

After coal ash, batteries and tires are the two most imported recycled waste.

In 2018, Korea imported 2.54 million tons of recyclable waste. Coal ash accounted the most at 1.27 million tons, or 50 percent. Batteries came in second at 470,000 tons or 18.5 percent and, tires came in third with 240,000 tons or 9.5 percent.


Plastic accounted for 170,000 tons or 6.6 percent.

These four items account for 85 percent of all recyclable trash imports.

The government said tighter inspections were a response to growing public concerns about radiation and pollution.

Although other countries send Korea recyclable trash, the changes are clearly targeting Japan.

Of 877,000 tons of recyclable trash imported in 2018 - composed of batteries, tires and plastic - 16.4 percent or 144,000 tons were imported from Japan.

Japan accounted for 99.9 percent of the 1.27 million tons of coal ash that was imported to Korea last year. Coal ash from Japanese thermal plants are used to make concrete.

Japan is the top source of plastic waste imported to Korea at 66,121 tones, followed by the United States with 36,446 tons. In batteries, Japan trailed behind the United States with 71,123 tones, and in tires, Japan ranked fourth after Australia, the United States and Italy.

Earlier this month Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the Korean government will expand its safety evaluations in trade related to tourism, food and waste.

The Korean government in April won a World Trade Organization (WTO) appeal of a ban of seafood from Japan’s Fukushima prefecture due to radiation contamination.

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