Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Garbage, It's Serious Business in South Korea

I never knew how complicated garbage could be until we moved to South Korea back in 2007.  Korean households for the most part are comprised of apartment buildings each with their own basic rules of garbage.  In our apartment complex, garbage day was Sunday's and Wednesday's.  The first time we lived there containers were unlocked from 6-10pm on these days but this last time they had lightened up on the hours and all bins were open all day.

The first time we lived in Korea, there was only one bin for plastics.  This time there were many and I would always look into the sack to see what people had put in them.  Most of the time I found that each sack had similar items so it would be guessing game.  But I had a few times when an ajosshi (they seem to have one hanging around the garbage area on garbage day) would watch everything I was doing with a stern look.  I was scared to death and a few times I was yelled at.  They also kept the area really clean so I did appreciate them for doing that but not scaring the foreigner.  Some ajosshis were so nice and would take my garbage and put it into the correct bin to help me out.
 They had easily tripled their collecting bags since our first stay.  It was a bit crazy.
 The plastic bag bins filled the most quickly and these were open everyday since a lot of people kept their "wet" wastes in a plastic bag to be disposed of daily.  More on that later.
This was where the dreaded (at least to me who has a weak stomach) "wet" waste went.  "Wet" waste was anything that animals could eat so any food wastes would go into these bins which were always open and smelly especially in the summer. 

To be perfectly honest, I never ever put anything in the "wet" waste bins.  Just the few times I had seen the inside of one of those bins made the bile rise to the top of my throat.  I have a weak stomach where that kind of thing is concerned so I would just put the food waste in with our regular garbage.
These bins were for everything else (including my "wet" garbage) and you had to use special plastic bags that you had bought at your local grocery store.  I always got mine at Home Plus.  You could through these bags out anytime but I was always terrified that they would see my "wet" garbage.  It was always the longest elevator ride of my life when I had to throw those bags out.
 They also had a huge plastic bag for styrofoam.  You may wonder why there would be a lot of stryofoam but that is how a Baskins Robbin cake is packed for you so it stays cold on the trip home. 
 When we first lived in the complex, there was only one huge bag for cardboard and paper.  It had grown to three in the year we were gone.  You should see all the garbage after Chuseok.  It's amazing!

 There was also an area where you could donated items.  I thought that was a great idea.
Finally, my favorite section was where all the furniture and large items that wouldn't fit into one of those prepaid bags.  I got some great finds garbage picking here.  The management office would put a sticker on each item with a cost that the owner would have to pay for removal.  These things were removed once a month.

Our complex was so large that there were two garbage collection areas.  The second area I walked past everytime I went to Home Plus or yoga so I got a good look almost everyday at what people threw out.

The end of the month was the best because that was moving time.  They would discard furniture and items they didn't want to take to the new apartment.  It was so much fun to pick through what they had left and sometimes I had fellow ajummas looking with me.  Oh, I miss those days.

I'm still trying to get Rocketman aclimated back to our neighborhood recycling rules.  He keeps forgetting we are not in Korea and our present systems only takes a few things.  He is forever putting plastic that isn't bottles in the recycle bin when he knows they only take plastic bottles at this time.  Now, every piece of plastic he will ask me if it can be recycled to which I say "no".  That may change someday but for now, we are way behind our Korean counterparts.

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