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Asia Minute: South Korea is dealing with new challenges in recycling plastics

The amount of water to make the bottle could be up to six or seven times what's inside the bottle, according to the Water Footprint Network.
Steven Depolo

Nearly two weeks into the New Year, many places are still adjusting to new laws that have recently taken effect. In South Korea, that includes a law about recycling plastic — which is posing some challenges.

Residents in South Korea are supposed to take the labels off plastic bottles before they recycle them.

That’s the law now. The Korea Times reports the public is struggling to follow the rules.

It’s important because the bottles are made from a different kind of plastic than the labels — and it complicates the recycling process if they’re mixed.

Separating trash is a long-standing practice in east Asia — burnable items are often picked up on different days than non-burnable items.

Pulling recyclables out of the trash has been the national law in South Korea since 1995.

More recently, the government banned colored plastic bottles — more difficult to recycle — and expanded waste screening facilities where plastics are separated.

The Ministry of Environment says the recycling of clear plastic bottles has nearly tripled in the past year.

Plastic recycling also remains a big commercial venture in South Korea.

Just this week, chemical manufacturer SK Geocentric announced plans to build a plastic waste recycling factory about 250 miles outside Seoul.

Yonhap News reports it’s a joint venture with a small American company called Purecycle Technologies to process about 60,000 tons of recycled polypropylene every year.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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