[Journalism Internship] Plastic use increases during pandemic
The perfect alternative for the material still has yet to be found
Ever since the pandemic started, a lot of progress made against the use of plastic has retrograded. Korea, among many other countries, has seen a rise in the production and consumption of plastic goods, according to Korea’s Ministry of Environment.
Plastic waste has been steadily increasing every year. In 2019, 10.36 million tons of plastic waste was generated, according to statistics from the Korea Environment Corporation re- leased in 2020. Statistics have not yet been released for 2021.
The steady increase is obvious when compared to the 6.93 million tons in 2015, 7.17 million tons in 2016, 7.98 million tons in 2017, and 8.24 million tons in 2018.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Korea had a ban on the use of single- use plastic cups within some cafes. However, due to sanitation concerns, the ban was lifted at the start of the pandemic.
The Environment Ministry announced on Jan. 6 that the ban on single-use plastics across cafes and restaurants in Korea will be enforced again nationwide starting April 1, in an effort to reduce the trend of plastic reliance and consumption exacerbated by the pandemic.
While businesses are on the hunt to find plastic alternatives, some experts disagree with the use of plastic alternatives.
“I don’t think about plastic alternatives are that great; that doesn’t mean they’re entirely unnecessary. Rather than finding alternatives, I think the fundamental way to solve the plastic pollution problem is to stop using plastic [and its alternatives, altogether],” said Park Ju-hee, director-general of Incheon Green Association, during an interview on Jan. 13.
It will still take a while before businesses find the perfect solution to plastic pollution, especially since there are different views regarding the matter.
However, Starbucks, one of the largest corporations in the world, has found themselves in a very good position in regards to the fight against plastic.
Starbucks Korea recently announced their “Better Together” strategy, aiming for the elimination of plastic in all their stores nationwide by 2025.
“Our strategy to push toward the zero-plastic movement seems to be gaining speed, given that there was actually an increase in the use of re- usable cups from 2019-20, despite the pandemic’s initial effect on our campaign,’’ said Ha Ji-eun, from Starbucks’ PR department.
The pandemic has made things difficult in terms of reusable plastic alternatives. Many stores worldwide have banned reusable items due to the ongoing issue with Covid-19.
While it could be said that the country lost ground the fight against plastic waste, there are some experts who say that the pandemic may have actually aided in the fight.
“Starbucks Korea [...] saw a growth in the number of customers bringing reusable cups from home during the pandemic,” Ha said.
As the pandemic continues, places like Starbucks Korea are hopeful that consumers will continue using reusable cups instead of opting for single- use containers when ordering within their franchises.
“The number of individual multi-use cups used in the past three years, from 2019 to the end of October 2021, has been 52.7 million,” Ha continued.
“We strongly encourage the use of reusable cups to promote ecofriendliness. In addition, we will incentivize customers to use reusable cups by providing more benefits so more customers would be willing to take part in our campaign.”
“Customer behavior and perception toward the campaign have been quite positive,” Ha said, suggesting that consumer consciousness regarding the way we impact our environment is increasing.
BY BRITTAN FISCHER, KI DO-YOUNG AND KIM WON-BIN [email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com]