To help citizens become more aware of the amount of waste they create and reduce the amount of recyclable trash sent to landfills, South Korea began implementing strict garbage disposal regulations. This included establishing a Volume-Based Waste Fee (VBWF) that requires you to purchase specific trash bags for each type of waste produced. Although these policies were initially not well received by the public, they are now deeply ingrained in Korean daily life. This is the main reason you won’t find many public trash or recycling bins in Seoul and improperly disposed waste can carry fines and other penalties.

In this guide, we will explain the common waste types, methods, and mistakes for garbage disposal in South Korea.  Click the title below to jump directly to that section and click the up arrow in the right-hand corner to return to the top at any time.

Types of Waste & Disposal

Waste in Korea can be divided into 4 main categories, each with its own specific disposal methods; general / non-recyclables, food waste, recyclables, and large or miscellaneous items. You must purchase the corresponding trash bag matching the district of disposal and type of waste for non-recyclable items. Items for recycling should be sorted by type and are usually collected separately from other waste. Large or miscellaneous items disposal should be scheduled for pick up in advance with the local district office.

1. General / Non-recyclables

일반쓰래기 or general waste is the standard disposal for most non-recyclable items. This includes things like napkins, animal bones, cloth, and contaminated plastics. Potentially dangerous items like batteries or broken glass should be placed in a separate bag before disposing into general waste.

General waste trash bags can be purchased at local grocery and convenience stores and are often used in place of single-use shopping bags at check-out. Typically, regular trash bags can be purchased in 10 or 20-liter sizes, individually or in packs of 10.

2. Food Waste

음식물 쓰레기, or food waste is typically sold in much smaller sizes than regular waste and is often recycled into animal feed and fertilizer. While the guidelines can be somewhat unclear for what qualifies, a good rule of thumb is to evaluate waste based on biodegradability and animal edibility. In other words, if the answer to ‘Would an animal eat this?’ is yes, it goes into food waste!

The exceptions for food waste disposal are egg shells, crustacean shells (Crab, Lobster, Shrimp, etc), clam shells, onion and garlic paper-like skin, animal bones (beef, pork, chicken, lamb, etc), tea bags or tea leaves. These exceptions should instead go into general waste disposal.


3. Recyclables

Virtually everything else in Korea should be recyclable! Most recyclable goods will have a small indicator on the back or bottom label that looks like a small triangle of arrows surrounding the appropriate recycling category. The main categories are paper, cans, glass, plastic, and vinyl.


4. Large or Miscellaneous Items

Looking to get rid of a broken suitcase or dead electronics? These items fall outside of the standard disposal and recycling system in Korea but fear not! These items just require notice and a small additional fee in advance for regular disposal. Simply complete the online form with your local district describing the item and timing for pick-up. The fee is based on item type and size and can be paid online. Place the item by your trash area with a printed receipt of payment and you’re set!

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We hope this guide helps you navigate recycling in Korea! Make sure to check out Trazy.comKorea’s #1 Travel Shop, for more essential tips and information about South Korea!

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[Photo Credits]

Seoul Metropolitan Office 

Seongdong-gu District Office


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