Recycling and management practices of plastic packaging waste towards a circular economy in South Korea

Date of publication 29 June 2020

Authors Jang, Yong-Chul; Lee, Gain; Kwon, Yuree; Lim, Jin-hong; Jeong, Ji-hyun.

Sources Resources, Conservation and Recycling : 158, 104798.



Environmentally sound management of plastic packaging waste is an issue of concern around the world because it causes potential threats to oceans and the environment upon disposal and mismanagement. This study examines the current efforts on recycling of the waste by extended producer responsibility (EPR) in South Korea as well as other countries. Material flow analysis (MFA) was performed on plastic packaging by life cycle. Based on the results in this study, material footprint of common single use plastics (i.e., PET water bottles, plastic cups, plastic bags, and plastic containers and cutlery by food delivery) by consumption was estimated to be on average 11.8 kg or 638 disposable plastics per capita a year, resulting in 32.6 billion disposable plastics and 603,000 ton of waste for disposal in South Korea. Approximately, 3 million ton of plastic packaging waste from household waste streams in 2017 in South Korea was generated and treated by energy recovery with solid refuse fuels and heat recovery, incineration without energy recovery, material recycling, and landfilling. Material recycling and recovery rates of plastic packaging waste from households were relatively low at 13.5% and 50.5%, respectively. It was estimated that as much as 3.6 million ton of CO(2)eq was generated from 2.7 million ton of plastic waste by incineration in 2017. Approximately 6.6 million ton CO(2)eq could be avoided by material recycling. Challenges and efforts have been discussed to improve current recycling system of plastic packaging waste towards a circular economy.

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