American Recycling in Korea


When I lived in America, we owned a recycling business called Red Truck Recycling. I thought it was a great idea. I believe in recycling. Whatever we can do to make the world a better place, I am all for it. With our business, we had a red semi trailer. It sat on a busy street corner where there was a lot of traffic. People brought pop and beer cans, copper, aluminum, steel, etc., all kinds of metal. We weighed everything they brought and paid them by the pound according to what kind of metal it was. When our semi trailer was full, we called a guy with a semi truck to pull our semi trailer across town to a big metal business. They in turn bought all the metal we had bought, and we made a profit. We heard that you could also recycle plastic milk jugs and paper, but they weren’t very profitable, and businesses are in business to make a profit, so we didn’t do that kind of recycling. When I moved to Korea, I learned there is a whole different kind of recycling going on here. Everyone does it. They are all expected to do it if they are going to be good citizen, and no one is paid to do it. Today, I am going to show you how the Koreans recycle.



To begin with, everyone wakes up early in the morning before they go to work.Each apartment building will tell you which day to come. All week, they have been saving things like cans, pop bottles, milk bottles, boxes, etc, The first year we lived in Korea, I was responsible for the recycling in our apartment, and I had a system. I kept baskets with wheels on the bottom, I asked everyone to just put paper in one, plastic in one, metal in one, and glass in another. On the morning I had to recycle, I just wheeled my baskets downstairs. In the apartment where I live now, my son in law does the recycling. He crawls out of bed before breakfast, puts everything he has collected all week in a plastic bag and heads for the elevator. As we get on the elevator, there are more people going down with their recycling.



As we go out in front of the building, you can see they have set up the production in the parking lot. In one bag, you put paper; in another, you put glass; in another, there is plastic; there is even one for aluminum cans. There is a stack of cardboard boxes and a stack of Styrofoam boxes. This morning, you can also see an old stove.

They also recycle furniture. You can set your furniture outside any day of the week. If anyone wants the second hand furniture, they are welcome to it. You don’t have to go to a yard sale to get second hand furniture. Just check around the apartment buildings and see if someone has put some furniture outside. If they have and you need it, you are welcome to it. Since foreigners are usually temporary in Korea, a lot of foreigners get their furniture this way. I know an American serviceman married to a Korean who figured this out and made a business out of it. He knew that other American servicemen didn’t know about this furniture, but he did. He also had a pickup truck. When he saw good furiniture sitting outside, he just went and picked it up and advertised it for the other military men to buy from him. It was perfectly legal, and he got all the furniture for free. If you decide to set furniture outside, initially, you can just put it out there, but in the next few days, you are expected to go to the local city office and get a yellow sticker to put on it which tells the city that they can pick the furniture up. The furniture will not just stay out in the street.

Clothes are also recycled. Close to every apartment building you can find a big green box that is built like an old red post box in America. You can pull the top door down, insert any clothes you no longer want, close it, and the clothes go inside and stay there safely. Every so often someone comes and picks the clothes up. It is like giving your clothes to the goodwill, but I have no idea what they actually do with these clothes.

Another thing they recycle is left over food. While you are doing your dishes, you often have left overs, especially at dinner. In the apartment building where I live, you can buy little pink bags to collect your left overs, peelings, cores, etc., but people don’t always use the little bags. Some just put their food directly into the food recycling bin. In one apartment building I lived in, the building was small, so they just put a big bucket with a lid out front every evening expecting people to put their food scraps there. In the buidling where we are now, it is like many of the big buildings around Korea, you will see this gray container with an orange lid that looks like an American trash can. You just open it up and dump your food recycling inside. You don’t have to wait on this one either. You can do it any time of day everyday. Personally, I hate this task because the food inside is putrid. It stinks, and it is nasty. However, if you decide not to do it and just fill a plastic bag with left over food, seal it, and put it in your trash bag, and they learn about it, they won’t be happy with you. It is not illegal to not recycle, but they will look at you with disdain and think you are a bad citizen. As far as Koreans are concerned, you must recycle if you want to be a good citizen. Yesterday, there were three announcements on our intercom system encouraging everyone to recycle. I have heard that the Korean have come up with an alternative fuel using the food recyclables. When someone told me this, I wondered if it were true, why don’t they share the knowledge with the rest of the world? I don’t think it is true, but it is a rumor.

After you are done recycling for the morning, you get back in the elevator and home. It only takes a few minutes. Now, you can get ready to go to work or go back to sleep according to what time of day you have to go to work, and in Korean, you have been a good citizen. There is no monetary profit like our business in America, but the people will like you if you do it, and you are helping the environment.

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