Seoul – why bins are rare

When you walk around in Seoul, South Korea and for example eat an apple or buy a brand new pack of chewing gum you will soon need a bin to throw your waste away. Well… you will search a long time until finally finding one. I was very curious about this phenomenon. That’s why I asked some Korean friends about it. I found more or less three explanations.

Firstly, there are no public bins because the South Koreans are afraid of terror attacks by North Koreans. I am not sure if this is true. Would a fear be enough reason to force people carrying their waste with themselves all day long?

A second explanation was that bins and the official waste separation are super duper expensive. That is why also private homes just put their bin bags next to the street. I’d like to call this the unofficial dustbin. So, because there are no public/ official bins people just put their waste somewhere in between these unofficial ones. The results are smaller and larger dumpsites everywhere in the city.

Thirdly I heard that the government implemented a special rule to support the recycling behavior of Koreans. Under this role citizens are forced to use certain waste bags for each kind of waste. Thus, all dustbins were removed within the approach not throwing everything in one bin. The awkward outcome is that all the different bags in the end are collectively located on one hill.

The first time I throw some of my waste onto an unofficial dustbin it felt strange to me because I was not sure if that was really a common behavior. But now I have to say that whenever I see a bin in Seoul whether unofficial or official I feel sooo lucky. So here is my handy tip: If you are in Seoul and you are carrying some waste with you, just use the unofficial dustbin or get to the next subway station. At the station you will definitely find a bin… somewhere…

Here comes my critique: I really do not understand why such a developing country like Korea is not changing this situation. Nowadays there are these big unofficial dumpsites where the pre recycled waste is remixed. Thus, even if waste separation is implemented the system is neither sufficient nor efficient. Koreans have to separate between can & glass, paper, food waste and regular waste. But finally when the garbage collection arrives all the small bags are collected in a big bag. Then everything is more jumbled than before.

So, the waste separation in Korean households seems for nothing.

Please change that situation quickly!

About the author


Hi there, I am Jo. Currently, I am a blogger and student, based in London, UK. Living in urban settings with a passion for sustainability inspired me to create this blog. Here, I want to capture and share some of my urban explorations, experiences and thoughts. Feel free to click around, give feedback, share the blog or connect with me. Cheers!

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  • Hi there,

    I discovered the same thing you described. I could not understand, why they are doing it in that way and in fact why they do not developing it. I ask myself all the time where they store their trash when walking in the streets.

    All the best and let us hope that they will find something useful soon.

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