SEOUL, Apr. 8 (Korea Bizwire) — On April 1, plastic bags were banned from use in all department stores, malls, and shopping centers following the introduction of new legislation that will result in fines up to 3 million won if stores make use of plastic bags.
While the legislation seems to be effective when it comes to offline stores, it becomes less so for online stores, where the use of plastic bags and plastic packaging is prolific.
The online purchase of food is on a constant rise. According to Statistics Korea, online transactions for food products reached 13 trillion won (US$11 billion) last year, rising by 28.2 percent from the previous year.
Among them, agricultural, livestock, and fishery products accounted for as much as 2.8 trillion won, rising by 23 percent from the previous year.
South Korea’s early morning delivery market has reached the 400 billion won milestone, 40 times larger than only three years ago.
Early morning delivery service involves delivering prepared meals, side dishes, and other goods in the early morning of the day after the order is placed.
Market Kurly, a South Korean online food store, first began offering early morning delivery services in 2015.
Since then, Hello Nature, Coupang, Emart, Lotte Supermarket, and other companies jumped into the early morning delivery competition.
The problem here is that the expansion of the market has led to an increase in the use of disposable products.
“Ordering 10 products for early morning delivery means 10 series of disposable wrappings,” said Kim Mi-hwa, president of the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network.
“The packaging is composed of different materials, which make it harder to recycle.”
Some companies use recyclable boxes to wrap and deliver the products. They collect the boxes when delivering the next order, and send them to a recycling agency.
This procedure, however, also poses a problem when the customer doesn’t make the next order. Also, in many cases, disposable products are still included in the delivery.
“We make the deliveries in a number of boxes depending on the storage requirement of the food product,” said a source familiar with early morning delivery services.
“We are conducting a number of tests to resolve the overwrapping problems.”
Ministry of Environment announced comprehensive plans in April last year to reduce plastic waste by 50 percent and recycle 70 percent of the remaining waste by 2030.
In January, the ministry announced measures to reduce plastic materials used to wrap delivery goods.
One critical shortcoming, however, is that it is not compulsory for the companies to implement the new measures.
“We are fully aware of the problems caused by disposable materials used in early morning deliveries,” said Kang Seung-hee, industrial affairs officer at the Ministry of Environment.
“Discussion is underway to draft new regulations on the use of plastic bags.”
Delivering fresh goods has become part of everyday lives of citizens. Prof. Kim Yong-jin from Inha University argues that increasing number of people are purchasing fresh food online due to convenience and affordable price.
“Amazon, Alibaba, and other major distributors also provide 1-day delivery and other quick delivery services to capture customer demands,” Kim said.
Embrain, a South Korean market research firm, conducted a survey on 1,000 people between 19~59 years of age, 74.9 percent of whom said they were satisfied with early morning deliveries because of “quick delivery of fresh goods.”
65.3 percent of the respondents said they will continue to use the early morning delivery services.
“Early morning delivery services is inciting unregulated use of disposable goods,” said Kim Mi-hwa. “It goes against current efforts to reduce use of plastic materials and other disposable goods.”
“Stronger regulations on early morning deliveries and other delivery services should be implemented to reduce waste,” Kim added.
H. M. Kang (firstname.lastname@example.org)