Our first full week in Seoul had, as with any new foreign city, its fill of ups and downs along the learning curve. Perhaps the greatest challenge was figuring out the trash. We’d heard you have to sort your trash from recycling in Seoul, which didn’t seem like it would at all be difficult. It turns out that Seoul takes its trash very seriously. At first I thought it was just a matter of sorting your regular trash from your food waste, which you then put in a trash bag, tie up, and then put in the corresponding trash shoot in the hallway on the floor of our building.
However, having heard from people that they’ve been fined $50 for not tying the bag correctly or sorting their trash correctly, I decided to do a quick Google search on how to tie the bags. Was I in for a shock. About an hour and four different articles later, I’d learned that the Korean government is more than serious about trash, it is insane!
The first thing I learned was that the trash bags I bought at the PX were useless. In Korea, you can only buy trash bags in your neighborhood. Each bag has the district printed on it, and if you are caught cheating on your neighborhood with someone else’s trash bags, you get fined. This resulted in Tim packing our trash and taking it to work for the first few days because, mysteriously, once you are on the Army base you don’t have to sort your trash. You do, however, have to throw your used toilet paper in there rather than down the toilet. Eww.
Second, I learned there is a special trash bag for general waste and a special one for food waste, and that these bags can be purchased from my neighborhood convenience store.
Third, I learned that you must sort your recycling to a slightly greater degree than I’m used to, but I’ll get into that in a minute.
After reading about where to find trash bags and how to ask for them, I went downstairs to the little 7-11 next to my building. I searched but found no bags out. Piff, it seems I will have to ask. Technology dependent that I am, I just showed the clerk my question in Korean, and she responded by pulling out a stack of general waste bags. She did not, unfortunately, have the food waste bags, and the best she could tell me was to look in the area. Yea, got that, thanks.
I stopped at a second convenience store, but the clerk again did not speak English, and she was having trouble communicating with me even though I this time I decided to use the talking translator on my phone which she could speak into. She just couldn’t seem to figure out when or how to talk into the phone. When she did, the phone translated the following, “Restaurant?” I tried again. She answered, and I got the following, “I live in an apartment above here.” At that point I gave up, thanked her, and left.
My third time I hit it lucky- I found someone who spoke English, and she directed me to a different 7-11 just a bit further down. Again I had to ask the clerk for the bags, which she had, and there was little need for me to rely on Google mis-translate.
Once home, I got back to reading the four articles to figure out what exactly constitutes recyclable, food waste, and general waste. Here is the run down.
Food waste is any raw or cooked food product except bones and seafood shells. Oh, just kidding. Food waste is any raw or cooked food product except bones, seafood shells, egg shells, and nut shells. No, no, that’s not quite it either. Food waste is any raw or cooked food product except bones, seafood shells, egg shells, nut shells, and pits from stone fruits. Oh wait, we forgot to mention, food waste is is any raw or cooked food product except bones, seafood shells, egg shells, nut shells, pits from stone fruits or avocados, or the “paper” peeling from onions and garlic. Got it? Ok, good. Because that isn’t it either. Food waste is is any raw or cooked food product except bones, seafood shells, egg shells, nut shells, pits from stone fruits or avocados, the “paper” peeling from onions and garlic, or the seeds and skins from peppers. That’s it, oh, except for another thing. Food waste is is any raw or cooked food product except bones, seafood shells, egg shells, nut shells, pits from stone fruits or avocados, the “paper” peeling from onions and garlic, the seeds and skins from peppers, or the organs of the globe fish. What the heck’s a globe fish? It’s this guy:
I bet you thought we were done with food waste didn’t you? Haha, nope! One last time, food waste is is any raw or cooked food product except bones, seafood shells, egg shells, nut shells, pits from stone fruits or avocados, the “paper” peeling from onions and garlic, the seeds and skins from peppers, the organs of the globe fish, or your tea and coffee grounds. Actually, the coffee grounds wasn’t clear but I figured if they said no tea leaves…
So, now that you have separated out your globe fish organs and all other forbidden foods from the rest of your food waste, you can put that in general waste and focus on your recycling.
These are the basics of recycling. Separate your glass, iron, Styrofoam, plastic shopping bags, paper, boxes, aluminum, and plastic bottles from one another. Oh, and when it comes to plastic in general, that means the shrink wrap from your leftovers, the plastic film from your frozen meal, the plastic wrapper from your candy bar…you get the idea. Same with paper, receipts, milk containers, ice cream containers, egg cartons, paper food wrappers, pretty much anything that once vaguely resembled a tree. Essentially, the rule of thumb is throw nothing in general waste because it probably has a recycling category, unless it is a globe fish.
Ok, so now that you have all that down, and you’ve filled your appropriate bags, how do you throw them out? Well, you wait for the trash gods to turn on the little light next to the magical trash shoots which means your can open the door to throw it away. When these magical lights appear is anyone’s guess. The hours listed are 5am-10am and 5pm-10pm. Mostly this is true, but not always. Weekends? They’re a crap-shoot, and it took several days of the trash sitting by the door before I figured out the timing of those shoots.
When it came for my first time taking recycling out (meaning to floor B-5), I arrived there with about 4 Korean men and women who help maintain the building, and they were chuckling at the white girl gesturing her questions about whether something could really go in one of the recycling bags. I thought surely that some plastics would be a no-go, but no, not here, everything goes!
After all of that trash nonsense, I was really in need of a stress reliever. I decided a run in my new city was the perfect answer, and voila, I found my happy place!
Happily, the rest of the week didn’t require so much Googling just to take care of daily household requirements, and I was able to focus on things like the blog and run-sploring. Some of the things I’ve discovered on my runs are: where to buy Philadelphia cream cheese in Seoul, an international wine shop, a mall, and a rather large open air market offering dried seafood, produce, nuts, rice, etc. – which I plan to return here when I feel more confident in my Hangul bargaining skills.