Korea Zero Waste Movement Network

Showing the world that Zero Waste is possible

Interview with the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network team

The Korea Zero Waste Movement Network started with 31 grassroots organizations in Seoul way back in 1997. It has then expanded to a national network with 180 organizations including environment, citizens, and women’s movement. The key role of KZWMN is pushing for alternative policies on waste and supporting ecological waste treatment like recycling systems.  

The KZWMN has shown a lot of successful activities through its 180 grassroot NGO network which helped the expansion of Zero Waste movement starting with local communities. One of the biggest achievements of the KZWMN is its role in reducing more than 3 billion dollars in the national budget through its campaign on decreasing use of disposable products, reduction of packing papers, and reduction of food garbage. According to Mi-hwa Kim, KZWMN Chair who has been with the Network for 20 years, “our work will never stop until we reach our goal of an ecological society.”

Below is an excerpt of the interview with the team.

Public campaign to reduce food waste by 50%.

What are KZWMN’s top priorities? 

As a specialized organization focused on waste problems, the KZWMN key roles include: (a) giving critical advice to the waste policies of the government and observing the waste management practices of entrepreneurs, both activities aim to prevent misuse of resources, (b) making sure that the global civil society reinforce global environmental cooperation, and (c) making efforts to achieve a sustainable recycling society by bridging the citizens and the government to work together.  

What are the main ongoing campaigns of KZWMN? 

We work on Zero Waste policies which involve monitoring of single-use plastic (SUP) cups reduction in fast foods and cafés and SUP bags in markets. We also prepare policies for the establishment of Zero Waste shops, policy proposals for the improvement of the food culture which includes research and consultation, policy proposal for waste disposal units, regulatory policy for packaging and repackaging and reducing packaging for all materials, and policy proposals for pilot projects on separation of colorless plastic bottles.  We also monitor deposits for empty glass bottle containers and handling fee management systems.  

KZWMN helped push the government policy mandating 35% reduction in disposable products by 2022. The government’s plan will prohibit paper cups in cafés and food stores and plastic bags in stores, supermarkets, retailers, and bakeries by 2022 and in all industries by 2030. It also includes prohibition of single-use spoons and chopsticks in food deliveries by 2021 and containers that are difficult to replace are converted into eco-friendly materials or reused. In funeral halls, all single-use cups and containers will be disallowed by 2021. Government offices have prohibited umbrella plastic covers in 2020 and will prohibit it in large stores by 2022. Single-use straws will be prohibited by 2022. In lodging businesses with 50 or more rooms, there will be no provision of single-use bath products (shaving machines, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush.) by 2022 and by 2024, this policy will apply to all lodging businesses.

On top of our work on Zero Waste policies, we also conduct Zero Waste education for the youth. We engage them in campaigns and environmental monitoring activities. In the past, we have worked with around 50 schools and 4,300 participants both face-to-face and online. We also provide trainings to other environmental groups and to teachers.

We are very active too in regional activities. There are 5 regions and 53 organizations across the country who promote Zero Waste through education, campaigns, and modelling. We now have Zero Waste tourist attractions, No Plastic Zones Universities, No Plastic Festivals, and Zero Waste markets across the country. We establish models to spread a culture of Zero Waste and no to SUPs.

We also conduct Zero Waste activities with corporations such as the KZWMN-P&G Korea signages that encourage environment-friendly practices. We collaborate with them on programs to continue the Zero Waste work.  Visit  https://www.instagram.com/eco__mate/ and https://www.instagram.com/zerowaste_kzwmn/ to know more.

We conducted the Reduce Plastics, Cheer Up! Plastic Down Campaign with 12 distribution companies. These companies promised to work together to come up with concrete and practical measures to reduce plastic waste and spread eco-friendly consumption by recognizing corporate social responsibility. The participating companies include L’Oreal Korea, Lotte Chilsung Beverage, Market Curly, Maeil Dairy, Amorepacific, LG Household & Health Care, Coca Cola Beverage, Korea Yakult, Korea Packaging Recycling Business Credit Union, Korea P&G, CJ Cheiljedang, CJENM O Shopping, GS Home Shopping, and NS Home Shopping.

We pushed for the Packing-Delivery Plastic Reduction Commitment jointly signed by the government and the delivery companies which promised to reduce plastic use by up to 20%. This includes a plastic source reduction plan such as reducing the number of packaging-delivery containers and minimizing container thickness through container standardization. The KZWMN and delivery company program aims to reduce disposable plastic and food waste. We are working on improving the food culture to lean towards no food waste and reduce the use of disposable plastic.

We are also working on getting the commitment of electronic companies to create a sustainable waste collection system by establishing a cooperative model for the recovery of waste electronic products.

Plastic Attack Campaign.

What is KZWA’s biggest accomplishments/achievements? 

Our biggest accomplishment is the introduction of the volume-based waste rate system and the volume-based food waste rate system which encourages the citizens to reduce the volume of waste they produce because the more waste they produce, the bigger is the collection fee that they need to pay.  

We are also successful in prohibiting the use of single-use cups and plastic bags and pushing for Extended Producer Responsibility and the Framework Act on Resource Circulation. 

What challenges are you facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis? 

As more and more people live at home due to COVID, the use of single use items, single use food containers, and packaging waste for parcels are rapidly increasing. For personal hygiene, we are proposing a campaign to encourage everyone to bring reusable food containers and other activities to encourage the reduction of packaged waste from parcels. We are exploring platforms for using common food containers.

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing? 

While the use of disposable items is increasing rapidly and the amount of garbage is increasing, there is a shortage of landfills. It is said that Korea’s landfill site has only 28 years left. Due to this, wastes that cannot be disposed of in Korea are being illegally exported overseas.

Packaging material improvement campaign.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living right now? 

Consumption by necessity is turning into a consumption trend for convenience and expression. The problem of increasing waste caused by the change in consumption trend, the lack of recycling, and the problem of illegal waste exportation are some of our biggest problems. The first thing we have to do is change our consumption habits and reduce unnecessary things. While doing that, we also need to call on our government to promote Zero Waste practices, and also continue the call to big corporations to transition to sustainable and environment-friendly practices.

How does your work on waste relate to social justice?

Our world is faced with waste problems, indiscriminate resource mining to create new products, poor wages for the workers, bad working conditions, exposure to chemicals that harm workers’ health, animal testing problems, and threats to marine terrestrial flora and fauna suffering from unauthorized dumping of garbage. Beyond those problems, there are other social and ethical issues that we also need to look at. All ecosystems have the right to live safely and equally. KZWNM’s role in this is to create a Zero Waste society by minimizing environmental, social, and ethical damage of our activities, solving the waste problem, and reducing the social costs of our waste.