Travelers visiting Seoul quickly notice the scarcity of trash cans on the streets, leading to the inconvenience of carrying waste in their hands or bags. This situation contrasts with many international cities where finding street trash cans is not challenging. In this blog post, we explore the reasons behind the difficulty in locating trash cans on Seoul's streets and the associated conflicts.
Why Trash Bins are Scarce on Seoul Streets
The decrease in the number of trash cans on Seoul's streets is attributed to the efforts of the government and local authorities to enhance the city's aesthetics, address the shortage of beautification personnel, and implement a garbage volume system. According to the Ministry of Environment and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the count of "street bins" in downtown Seoul plummeted from 7,607 in 1994 to 3,300 in 2000 after the initiation of the garbage disposal system. The trend continued in the early 2000s, with the number of trash cans for recycling waste collection decreasing to 4,956 in 2022.
The decline in street trash cans started in 1995 when the government introduced a garbage fee pay-as-you-go system. This reduction aimed to establish a system where waste dischargers bear the disposal costs, preventing household waste from being disposed of improperly in street bins. The Seoul Metropolitan Government and autonomous districts contend that this reduction is essential to curb unauthorized dumping and emissions. An official from the Jongno-gu Office in Seoul stated, "We have no plans to increase the number of street trash cans in the future due to side effects such as residents throwing household waste or creating a mess around the bins."
While some autonomous districts increased patrols and surveillance instead of reducing trash cans, citizens express difficulty understanding the policy. A 2021 online poll by the Seoul Metropolitan Government revealed that 73.3% of respondents considered the current number of trash cans in downtown Seoul insufficient, with only 25.2% finding it adequate. Citizens argue that reducing trash cans doesn't eliminate waste and may lead to littering.
Seoul citizens find it challenging to align with the policy of reducing street trash cans. A 2021 online poll conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government showed that 73.3% of respondents felt the number of trash cans in downtown Seoul was insufficient. Only 25.2% believed the current number of street trash cans was appropriate. While 62.8% of respondents reported that the areas around street trash cans were generally clean, citizens disagreed with local government officials concerned about unauthorized garbage dumping.
Kim Sung-joon, a 23-year-old college student, criticized the measure, stating, "It is not a realistic approach to eliminate trash cans to reduce waste." He shared an incident of leaving trash on the side of the road due to the absence of trash cans when using public transportation. Joo, a 59-year-old resident of Songpa-gu, Seoul, agreed with the waste reduction goal but argued that removing trash cans doesn't stop citizens from discarding trash.
Experts recommend implementing policies to reduce street trash cans after addressing waste emissions. Despite factors contributing to street garbage, including takeout orders from cafes, they argue that removing trash cans encourages citizens to litter. Hong Soo-yeol, head of the Resource Circulation Economy Institute, emphasized the importance of installing street trash cans and managing them publicly in a reality where citizens have no alternative for waste disposal.
Increase in Street Trash Cans
Recognizing public concerns, the Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to increase the number of street trash cans significantly. Currently at 4,956, the number is projected to rise to 7,500 by 2025. The decision reflects a shift from the 18-year policy to reduce street bins, responding to ongoing complaints about the lack of trash cans on the streets. The new bins will be strategically placed, including near bus stops and areas with high foot traffic to address specific issues like litter accumulation from bus passengers.
Foreign travelers in Seoul may face inconveniences due to the scarcity of street trash cans. The reduction in street bins, driven by government policies and waste disposal systems, necessitates travelers to carry their waste until proper disposal options are available. The Seoul Metropolitan Government's plan to significantly increase the number of trash cans by 2025 acknowledges the inconvenience and aims to alleviate it. However, until these changes take effect, visitors to Seoul should remain mindful of the challenges posed by the limited availability of trash cans.
Have you ever wondered why trash bins seem to be scarce in Seoul?
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