Trash in Korea: Everything You Need to Know about Garbage – Seoulistic

Trash in Korea: Everything You Need to Know about Garbage

Throwing out the trash in Korea might be different than what you’re used to back home, and there are certain rules that you should follow if you want to make sure you’re doing things the right way in Korea. Make sure you read this post so you don’t have any angry garbage men chasing you!


Living in Korea? You Must Recycle

If you live in Korea, you already know that Korea is pretty strict with its recycling policies. Korea is pretty specific with the kinds of trash it recycles: biodegradable waste, PET bottles, other plastics, batteries, bottles, and sometimes more. Recycling in Korea differs according to the processing of local governments. But know this: you will recycle… or else! If you leave your PET bottles in your “regular garbage” (일반 쓰레기) often enough, the garbage men might not pick up your trash next time. Or even worse, you might get a very angry warning by your building maintenance ajeoshi. (Advice: Run! ;))

Tip: Not sure how to separate your trash? Look at the labeling!


Save Your Leftovers

One of the best but smelliest things about throwing out garbage in Korea is the fact that they separate food waste. Anything biodegradable is collected separately, and the reason is supposedly very, very eco-friendly. Although it might sound gross, there are rumors that the food waste is fed to pigs in Korea. Not exactly clear if this is true or not. But either way, the fact that Korea is doing its part to save the world one kilogram of garbage at a time is pretty cool. It can at times stink up the house, and it’s a bit of extra work if you’re not used to separating your leftovers, but you’ll do it for your good friend planet earth, won’t you?? 😉

Tip: To prevent stinkage, try putting it in a container with a lid or try freezing your garbage (thanks, @Janna3000 for the tip!).

You Have to Pay for Garbage Bags

Instead of paying an extra tax to pay for garbage processing services in Korea, garbage men and processing centers are paid through the sale of garbage bags in Korea. There are different bags for the different kinds of garbage that you’ll be separating (see 1st point above). Generally, garbage men in Korea will not collect your trash if its not in one of the special color coded garbage bags. And it might sound ridiculous to pay for garbage bags if you don’t do it in your home country, but it’s a good system that ensures you’re actually following the rules. But you would do that anyway, right? 🙂

Tip 1: Each specific district in Seoul (i.e. Mapo-gu, Seocho-gu, etc.) have their own garbage bags. If you’re moving in Korea, you can’t use garbage bags from your old neighborhood.

Tip 2: These garbage bags can be found in convenience stores as well as local supermarkets.


Recycling at Restaurants and Cafes

If you’re going to a restaurant or cafe in Seoul where you dispose of the trash yourself (think McDonalds or Starbucks), you might not be used to the system. Just as Korea is pretty strict with its recycling polices for homemade garbage, restaurants and cafes in Korea also ask you to recycle when throwing out the trash. This typically includes separating leftovers (both liquids and solids), plastics (i.e. straws, cups and lids), cups, and everything else. And although you probably won’t get yelled at by an angry ajeoshi for not throwing out your trash properly, help out those hard working part timers and take the extra time to separate the trash. You will be officially awesome to Korea and planet Earth!

Tip 1: If there’s someone close by the trash bin, just hand your tray to the worker. They’ll usually take care of it for you.


Is throwing out the garbage the same in your country? Leave a comment!


Keith Kim is a Korean-American who has been living in Korea for almost a decade. Being in a unique position as both a Korean and a non-Korean, he's put all his experience and knowledge for surviving in Korea in Survival Korean . Read it to learn how you can survive in Korea. Follow him on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.


  1. Nicole says:

    I visited Canada a few years ago, to an extent it sounds a lot like the system there. I remember not knowing how to trash my restaurant garbage after finishing with it lol

  2. Janna says:

    Are the yellow bags for food waste? and the white for trash?

    • Kevin says:

      Yes. But I can’t seem to find food waste bags. I buy food from E-mart mostly and at convenient stores I only see black bags.

      So… I don’t know what to do about food waste. I have to use black or recycling bags for food waste. I tried the trashcan lid method to prevent nats… however…. it made things worse. 3 days later. Maggots and a ton of maggot eggs were all around the can. This country is riddled with moisture and smell prevalent insects. God the outside of my apartment smells like 3000 kinds of feces and garbage that cooks in the sun at the front entrance of my complex… ugh… Korea SUCKS with garbage.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I was also told when I moved here that I could not put my garbage out until the sun goes down. Also that there isn’t a designated trash day for when it would be picked up like there was where I lived in the USA.

  4. Andrew says:

    I wish this existed in my Korea. I am lucky if my neighbors put their stuff out in grocery bags. Usually is is just a pile of rotting food and trash thrown by a lamp pole. I asked where there was a recycling center near me and I was laughed at as if such a thing existed. Silly foreigner.

  5. Keith says:

    @Nicole, yes it is very confusing for first timers here too!
    @Janna, yup, at least it is in my neighborhood 🙂
    @Elizabeth, Yea, it can be sporadic at times I think. But I never heard about putting out garbage until the sun goes down… O,.O

  6. Keith says:

    @Andrew, where do you live? can’t believe they would pick that up!

  7. Janna says:

    @Andrew, I had a similar experience in Ulsan. but you could still freeze your food and take it to a garden maybe. I always put my recycling out and some old lady would come by at night and steal it 😉

  8. Steven says:

    On a semi-related note… there are only TWO things in which Korea is lacking compared to the United States. The first is the lack of garbage cans in public areas and the second is the crappy tissues Koreans pass off as napkins. Other than those two, Korea is awesome.

  9. Ana says:

    In Romania, unfortunately there is no garbage sorting. We can just put everything in one bag. The garbage trucks come twice a week ( in my area, mondays and thursdays). If we want to recycle, we have to go the nearby containers where we can put paper, plastic and glass. We still have a long way to go.
    In Belgium, it’s different. It’s expensive. I went there with an exchange programme for a semester and I saw that not only that you have to buy their special color coded bags(yellow for leftovers and blue for plastic), but you also have to pay a tax of around 100 euro, depending of the area.

  10. Janet says:

    It sounds similar to the system we have in Scotland. There are three bins: general waste, recycling, and food/garden waste. The city council provides special bags made from cornstarch for food waste. But we can use any plastic bag for general waste. Collections are every two weeks.

  11. Peter says:

    I’m in Gunsan in Korea, the Susong-dong area. There are loads of restaurants and bars in the streets around me – my apartment is on top of some. My girlfriend lives block away. We have been here for 2 weeks and have not once seen any kind of dustbin or trashcan on the street. Our buildings are 4 floors high and don’t seen to have any disposal facilities. However, we have seen piles of trash around lamp poles, so that is where we have been leaving our trash. We would really like to do something different, but we have no idea what? I have seen a video blog of some people who live in the big high rise apartments… they seen to have a central bin/recycling area on the ground floor, but we don’t.

  12. Desiree says:

    I wish the Koreans wouldn’t just stack their trash on the street and why don’t they have garbage cans around public places? We get in trouble for not recycling but the country is so dirty and smells it is really sad. Garbage is always all over the streets, parks and pilled up in heaps. Most Koreans are dressed so nice but live like animals. I really like Korea/Koreans but I wish the people would try to make it a little pleasanter to live.

  13. Greg says:


    I live in Mapo-gu. Do you know when garbage/recycling is picked up/ or should be left out?


  14. Bart says:

    I just wonder – how much do you have to pay for garbage bags?

  15. Angel says:

    I live in Sweden and we have a similar system here. BUT it’s only in some areas. Where my parents live they have to sort out the trash by plastic, paper, leftover food, metal and so on. But where I live, just 20 minutes away you can if you want to, but it’s not reqired. And if you cheat with the trash the garbagemen will not give a damn, haha.
    One thing I don’t get though, WHY can’t you use trashbags from a different area? Why, why why? haha
    Fun post, didn’t know there was so much to say about garbage.^^

  16. Lee says:

    I am Korean. I moved to Manhattan recently and whenever buildings put those garbage bags out on their collection day I see those big bags(some transparents) piled up on the sidewalk waitng to be picked up and that makes me feel very uncomfortable. In my buidling there are a couple of recycle bins on each floor for plastics and papers. But it seems like people just don’t care or not educated for in those bags everything is mixed up. Cans, plastics, foodwaste, cloths, everything. Especially in a country like America where everything is over packaged and has no shame on using plastic spoons and forks, if you throw them all mixed, what our mother planet is going to become? I know nowhere is perfect, but at least this kind of simple action in one of the most developed countries is not too much I should expect, shouldn’t I?

  17. Suzanne says:

    What about pet waste? I’m still trying to figure out how to properly dispose of dog poo.

  18. Caro says:

    I like Korea system. Every country should have recycling police…
    Here in Chile is totally different. You can put everything in a bag and it’s okay. If you want to recycle, you have to take plastic, tetrapack, paper, etc to a specific place. People here usually only recycles glass, but nobody will tell you something if you just trow it to a can.

  19. Tina says:

    OMG we don’t have any kind of separating garbage for recycling it’s the garbage men who do this, and they are not enough and not all the garbage is being separated, but I really like the system in Korea

  20. Elli says:

    Hey, this is awesome! I thought Finland was one of the rare countries that recycle but apparently Korea and some others are ahead of us! In Finland we have a possibility to sort our waste but the responsibility is left for our conscience. I don’t know about rural area but in urban area every block has biogredable waste, glass, metal, energy waste, paper waste, cardboard and general waste bin. Also supermarkets are obligated to take electronics and batteries. We can return bottles and cans in exchange for money in supermarkets. Inspite of this profound system many people are lazy and they just put everything in the general waste. Most of waste sorting is paid by taxes. I actually like that plastic bag system. Finland should have one too.

  21. Milla says:

    in Finland, there is some recycling in fast food restaurants….

  22. Rod says:

    I’m looking into teaching in South Korea again. Months after I left, I got a message from the teacher that took my place from my old school. I was told that I did not dispose of some garbage properly and that there is fine for it. If I knew while I was there, I would’ve paid for the fine. She asked other teachers from my school about it, and they said it should be nothing to worry about. I’m a paranoid person, would this affect my re-entrance?

  23. Jason says:

    Here in Houston, we have two bins: one for non-recyclables and a big recycle bin. Everything recyclable goes into one bin: the trucks take it to a sorting center, and it’s dumped into a huge machine that sorts it… needless to say, recycling is really easy here 🙂

  24. Vickey says:

    This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.
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  25. shaon says:

    I find a notice at our gate saying somthing like “keeping trash at door!” I am not sure just took the picture are translated with google. Are there any obligation for keeping trash bag?

    you can check the notice image here

  26. Adam T says:

    I travel as an engineer to Korea often (about 1/month, high tech industry) and observe thousands of small plastic bottles being consumed and placed in the regular trash. We get crates of these bottles into our office every week.

    Thousands of small disposable plastic bottles being consumed work places in Korea

    Root Cause Hypotheses
    No culture of using your own water bottle
    Easy access
    No taxes on plastic bottle consumption
    (yes, probably many more can be added)

    Potential Solutions
    Somehow tax disposable plastic bottle usage
    (yes, need more ideas….)

    Not sure I’m not in the business of making changes like this…
    My personal Plan has been to notify my work place about the consumption (although I doubt anything will change without a larger cultural shift. Evidence of this is that I did the same thing about plastic coffee stir sticks, wanting to change them to wood. … And, yes nothing changed… )

  27. 사천영어샘 says:

    One thing that I believe that has to be highlighted in the article is that it is very specific to Seoul. If you live elsewhere, the situation may not be the case. It is important to know that every country has different systems depending on where someone lives and not every city or municipality may even be accountable for that which they should.

    I personally live in the South, and there are piles of garbage everywhere that are picked up by trash collectors every day. My city has several different bags but no one cares which bag is used for what (they are all interchangeable except for the food waste bag). One can even use a regular bag to throw out trash, and many people don’t even use trash bags (which makes life more difficult for the trash collectors). Companies in Korea over package items to the point where a box of cookies might have each cookie individually wrapped in a plastic bag. Even apples can be bought individually wrapped in their own plastic bags. This

    On top of that, not every facility has recycling, and in this area not everyone actually recycles. I don’t have the option to recycle as there are no recycle sorting bins in my neighborhood. In addition to that, Korea is not the perfect/earth saving/earth loving place people depict it to be. People here are like people everywhere. Some care about the earth and some don’t.

  28. SJ says:

    What about aseptic cartons such as TetraPak? They are made of layers of paper, aluminum, and plastic film. Stick them in the paper or general rubbish? Thanks.

  29. demonicdivas says:

    South Korea is similar to the UK in that you have to separate out every type of rubbish. But the better thing about the UK is that it’s a) controlled by the council so not a for profit company and b) you have regular pick up days. Get your rubbish wrong, overfill your bin/leave bags lying next to your wheelie bin or don’t leave it in the correct place for the rubbish truck, it doesn’t get collected. Bad thing is that collection is every other week so bins get stinky in summer.

    I live in the Netherlands now and recycling is so far behind. My husband insists that it all gets done at the dump, but it has a record of being one of the worst in the EU for recycling. Where we live now has separate bins for paper, glass and rubbish (which is as far as sorting goes – at our last apartment there were no recycling facilities, just rubbish bins), and you can return all plastic bottles 1 litre and above back to supermarkets where they have special machines to take them. You are automatically charged a 25 cent tax which you can reclaim from these machines when returning bottles and put the money you get back against your shopping bill. You can also return glass beer bottles in this way. If you leave your rubbish by a bin, you get a fine, even if they are full. A friend got 100 euro fine for doing this. You don’t need special bags. People put loose rubbish and all kinds of things in these large containers, and around 3-4 times a week the rubbish is collected by the council.

    Both the UK and NL have municipal rubbish dumps where you can drive with large rubbish, say from redecorating your house, and throw it into a skip. They will also come and do collections of big items such as sofas, washing machines, fridges etc if you book in advance. Where I lived in the UK charged £10 for this and in NL it is free.

    Not sure any country has the very serious issue of waste sorted. The more we consume and the more companies push new products, the worse the problem becomes. Recycling is so important.

  30. Narayana says:

    Request you to send us the Paddy grass recycling to paper, the process details, the plant and machinery cost.
    The impact on the environment such as air emissions, waste and wastewater generation.
    Typical case studies and white papers.

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