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Garbage Disposal & Recycling in South Korea: How Not to Get Fined

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In South Korea, recycling is taken seriously, with a comprehensive system in place to sort and process different types of waste. As a newcomer, understanding how recycling works here can seem daunting at first, but in this guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about recycling in South Korea.

What are the general guidelines for separating trash and recyclables in South Korea?

In South Korea, trash and recyclables are typically separated into different categories. The general guidelines for separating trash and recyclables include:

General Waste (일반 쓰레기)

General waste typically consists of everyday household items such as tissue paper, receipts, diapers, sanitary products, certain types of mixed-material packaging, and other non-recyclable materials. These items should be disposed of in special general waste bags.

Food Waste (음식물 쓰레기)

Food waste should be separated and disposed of separately from other types of trash. It is often collected in special bins or bags depending on your place of residence.

Recyclables (재활용품)

Recyclable items such as paper, plastics, plastic bags (vinyl), glass, and cans should be sorted and placed in designated recycling bins or bags. These items are often collected separately from regular trash.

Oversized Waste (대형 폐기물)

Disposing of oversized waste, such as large furniture, appliances, mattresses, and other bulky items, follows specific procedures. You can visit your local Community Service Center (주민센터) or access their website to report the oversized waste you wish to dispose of and pay the required fee for pickup and disposal. Alternatively, you can utilize a service called Bbegi (빼기) to arrange for the removal of oversized items and make the payment online. Once scheduled, mark your oversized waste with the provided trash code and place it in the designated area for oversized waste disposal at your residence.

Special Waste

Electronics, batteries, light bulbs, and hazardous materials necessitate special disposal methods and should not be discarded with regular trash or recyclables. Depending on your place of residence, there will be designated areas for disposing of these items, or you can take them to your local Community Service Center. Some electronic appliances can be picked up free of charge.

Clothes (의류)

Old clothes, curtains, shoes, and bags can be thrown out in the clothing bins (의류 수거함) located in your residential area.

Where can I buy trash bags for general waste and food waste?

You can purchase general waste trash bags and food waste bags at the counter of convenience stores or local supermarkets in your area. They are available individually or in packs of 10. Various sizes are offered to suit your needs, ranging from 10L, 20L, 50L, 75L, to 100L bags for general waste, and 1L, 2L, 3L, and 5L bags for food waste. It's important to note that trash bags are designated for each district, so you should purchase them from a store in your residential district.

trash bags korea

What to ask for at the store

General Waste Bag: 종량제 봉투 Jong-nyang-je Bong-tu

Food Waste Bag : 음식물 쓰레기 봉투 Eum-sig-mul Sseu-re-gi Bong-tu

If your residence has an electronic food waste disposal system in place, there's no need to buy special food waste bags. Instead, you'll be charged monthly based on the total weight of your food waste.

What is considered food waste and why is it separated?

Food waste in South Korea is a significant issue, and the government has implemented various measures to tackle it, including the "pay-as-you-throw" system, which has resulted in an impressive 95% recycling rate. Food waste is also treated separately due to its high moisture content and potential for odor. Many apartments and neighborhoods have designated bins for food waste disposal. Some areas use special bags for food waste collection, while others have centralized collection points.

Food waste includes: fruit peel, vegetables, meats, rice, bread, etc.

Food waste does not include: roots, seeds, garlic peels, pineapple peel, corn husk, clam shells, tea bags, egg shells, fish bones, bones, walnut shells, etc. The following items should be disposed of in general waste bags.

A simple rule of thumb is to ask yourself, 'Is this item safe for an animal to eat?' If the answer is yes, then it belongs in the food waste category. If not, it should be disposed of as general waste.

What items are considered recyclable and how should they be prepared for disposal?

Plastics, vinyl, styrofoam, glass, paper, and cans are separated for recycling. When separating recyclables, make sure to rinse out containers that have been in contact with food or drinks before disposing of them to ensure they are clean and ready for recycling. Additionally, remove tape, labels, caps, foils, and stickers and dispose of them accordingly.

plastic bags korea recycling rules


✔️ Bottles and containers made from PET, PVC, PE,PP, PS, PSP

❌ Contaminated plastics, cassette tapes, medicine blister packs, toothbrush, fishing rod, CD, phones, strollers, etc.

korea recycling rules


✔️ Plastic bags, single use bags, etc.

❌ Contaminated plastic bags. Be sure to rinse out food and drinks before recycling.

korea recycling rules


✔️ Styrofoam boxes, styrofoam food containers, styrofoam plates

❌ Contaminated food or containers

korea recycling rules


✔️ Beer bottles, wine bottles, sauce jars,

❌ Crystal, ovenware, light bulbs, etc. Broken glass should be wrapped in newspaper and disposed in general waste bags.


✔️ Cardboard box, newspaper, milk packs, juice box, etc.

❌ Paper contaminated with oil or food, paper with vinyl coating, spring notebooks. Be sure to remove any metals like wires and stables before recycling.


✔️ Beer cans, soda cans, canned food, aerosol spray cans, etc.

❌ Paint cans, aluminum foil

How often is trash collected in residential areas, and is there a specific schedule to follow?

When you can throw out your trash depends on your apartment or the neighborhood you live in. Be sure to check with your landlord or real estate agent for details. Generally, there is a designated trash area where you can dispose of your trash and recyclables at specific times on certain days.

korea recycling rules

Are there penalties for not sorting trash and recyclables correctly?

Yes, there are penalties for not sorting trash and recyclables correctly in Korea. The penalties can vary depending on the severity of the violation and the municipality's regulations. Common penalties include fines and warnings issued by local authorities. Additionally, repeated violations may result in more serious consequences, such as increased fines or legal action. It's essential for residents to adhere to the local waste management guidelines to avoid penalties and contribute to a cleaner environment.

By familiarizing yourself with South Korea's recycling system and making a conscious effort to participate, you'll not only contribute to environmental conservation but also become an integral part of your new community.

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Cover photo source: Unsplash Nick Fewings

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