Plastic, paper cups-to-go will soon cost 300 won
The new regulation will be in an amendment to a recycling law and affect coffee chains, restaurants, bakeries and fast-food joints.
“To be more specific, the regulation will apply to all cafes, restaurants, bakeries and fast-food joints that have at least 100 stores nationwide,” the ministry said in a statement Monday. “But we may add non-franchise businesses to the list depending on their annual sales.”
The ministry estimates that franchise stores use 2.3 billion single-use plastic or paper cups a year, which is around 44 cups per person.
Another regulation goes into effect from April 1 that bans the use of plastic cups inside franchise branches, which means that by the time the new regulation goes into effect June 10, it will apply to takeout plastic and paper cups and for in-store drinks sold in paper cups.
Paper cup usage inside stores will be banned starting Nov. 24.
Customers can return the plastic or paper cups to any of the franchises to get a refund of their 300 won.
The ministry will also start regulating the size of single-use plastic and paper cups used at franchised stores so that they can be stacked regardless of where the cups were initially bought. They will also come with a barcode.
“To ensure that people don’t take advantage of the system, each cup will have a unique barcode, which will be scanned, before the customer is refunded 300 won,” said the ministry in its statement.
Businesses that don't comply face fines of up to 10 million won, according to the Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling Resources.
The country tried something similar from 2003 to 2008, but there was no legal mandate. Stores took part voluntarily, but only about 30 percent of cups got returned for refunds of 50 won, which was later raised to 100 won, and finally the policy was dropped.
“The ministry may have to think about raising the refund price for the cups from 300 won,” said Heo Seung-eun, a member of environmental civic group Green Korea. “They’ll have to see if that price is incentive enough for the customers to return the cups.”
Some cafes began taking their own initiatives to phase out single-use plastics.
Starbucks Korea last November phased out single-use plastic and paper cups in 12 branches in Seoul. Customers are served drinks in coffee mugs, their own tumblers or the cafe’s reusable plastic cups.
The reusable plastic cups cost 1,000 won, which is refunded when customers return them to a machine at any of the 12 branches. The launch of the system resulted in long queues and hassles at these branches.
“We don’t see similar hassles anymore, the system appears to have stabilized after that,” said Park Han-jo, a representative of Starbucks Korea. “Depending on the feedback from customers, we’ll decide whether to expand the system to other branches.”
The Environment Ministry also announced Monday that starting in 2024, supermarkets, butcher shops and other businesses will be banned from using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic to wrap products including meat and produce.
The ban does not apply to most cling wrap products used at home, the ministry said, because many switched to use polyethylene-based plastic from early 2000s, which decomposes differently from PVC-based plastic.
Restaurants will be banned from using wet wipes made with plastics starting in 2023, according the ministry.
“Single-use wet wipes used in restaurants are 40 to 50 percent plastic-based, they’re not recyclable and take a very long time to decompose naturally,” said the ministry in its statement. “The restaurants will have to find non-plastic wet wipes or use cleaning towels.”
There are no restrictions on the use of wet wipes in homes.
“We’re hoping the measure will help reduce the current level of annual use of plastics-based wet wipes at restaurants, which is around 288,000 tons,” said the ministry.
Korea's plastic waste has been on the rise every year, from 6.93 million tons in 2015 to 10.36 million tons in 2019, according to Korea Environment Corporation.
Euromap, an association of 1,000 companies manufacturing equipment for the plastics and rubber industry, estimated in 2016 that Korea would be the No. 3 nation in the world in terms of per capita plastic consumption by 2020, following Belgium and Taiwan.
BY ESTHER CHUNG, JUNG JONG-HOON [email@example.com]