By Lee Minji
SEOUL, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- Plastic waste is a nagging headache for Asia's fourth-largest economy. After banning plastic cups and bags, the government is now moving to ban paper boxes and packaging tapes.
Starting November, supermarkets will stop providing paper boxes and tape that shoppers can use to carry their groceries home, a move meant to encourage shoppers to use reusable shopping bags and reduce the plastic tape and string used for packing boxes, according to the environment ministry.
To help consumers adjust to the change, major retailers will provide reusable shopping bags that shoppers can buy or borrow.
"Packaging material becomes waste in just a short time. If we change our thoughts and actions, we can stop making unnecessary waste," Environment Minister Cho Myung-rae said in a statement released last week.
The measures are the latest in South Korea's fight against plastic waste. Last year, the government announced an ambitious plan to cut plastic waste by 50 percent and increase recycling rate from 34 percent to 70 percent by 2030.
As part of the plan, the environment ministry in August rolled out a plan to encourage reusable cup usage. Cafes that provide disposable plastic cups without checking whether the customer will stay in or take away can be fined up to 2 million won (US$1,650).
Starting this year, the government has banned use of disposable plastic bags at all supermarkets that are 165 square-meters or bigger, affecting around 2,000 shopping marts and 11,000 supermarkets. Paper bags and reusable plastic bags are unaffected.
The move to go green is also affecting online retailers as consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of plastic pollution.
"I always feel guilty when I get online deliveries because the ice packs and boxes are so big compared to the actual food," said Lee Myung-kun, who often orders food for his baby.
"I'm willing to buy from retailers who care for the Earth, even if that means I would have to pay a bit more," he said.
SSG.Com, the online shopping unit of retail conglomerate Shinsegae, has introduced reusable cooling bags to reduce ice packs and styrofoam boxes. The switch has reduced around 800,000 disposable wrapping products, the company said following a two-month test period.
Some retailers, such as food retailer Hello Nature and online retailer Hyundai Homeshopping, provide ice packs made of natural materials or collect them to be reused.
Industry data show that each South Korean consumed 132.7 kilograms of plastic in 2015. This is more than double the amount of China's 57.9 kilograms and France's 65.9 kilograms.
South Korea is estimated to generate roughly 25.7 billion plastic cups and 21.1 billion plastic bags as waste each year.
It takes up to 1,000 years for plastic waste to decompose, with plastic cups and bottles taking 450 years or more to disappear.
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