The waste disaster caused by Covid-19, what is our future?

How much has the disposable waste/plastic usage rate changed due to the increase in delivery after the social distancing in Seoul since the Covid-19?

by Keunjung Bae | December 7, 2020

According to the results of the Seoul Institute survey (results from a survey of 1,200 respondents to Seoul citizens), 74.7 % of Seoul citizens reported experiencing non-face-to-face consumption since the Covid-19 (investigation duration: 5/12-24/2020).

As a result of a survey on the field of non-face-to-face consumption activity for those who have experienced non-face-to-face consumption, food (54 %), shopping (37.2 %), and finance (6.6 %) were found to be highest in the order of priority.

In addition, according to the results of the Seoul Digital Foundation survey, the frequency of delivery food orders also increased by about 1.4 times from an average of 3 to 4.4 per month since the Covid-19.

In addition, we can see that the number of payers and payment amount of the delivery apps also increased significantly when comparing 2019 and 2020.

Therefore, we can predict that as delivery increases significantly compared to last year, disposable waste will also increase.
In this graph, we can actually see the increase in the amount of disposable waste in 2020 compared to 2019.


29.3% increase from 687 tons to 889 tons of Paper
11.1% increase from 856 tons to 951 tons of Vinyl
15.6% increase from 734 tons to 848 tons on Plastic
12% increase from 106 tons to 119 tons on Polystyrene

According to Greenpeace(2019), the annual consumption of plastic per Korean is 1.4kg for PET bottles, 0.9kg for plastic cups, and 9.2kg for plastic bags, a total of 11.5kg per year, which is very serious.

A more serious problem is that the actual recycling rate of the disposable plastics discharged in this way is only about 20%.

However, according to the results of the Seoul Institute survey, the ‘positive'(Yes) percentage of Seoul citizen’s respondents (extremely likely + very likely) to the question asking about the willingness of non-face-to-face consumption after the end of Covid-19 was high at 80.1 % of the total.
Therefore, the use of disposable plastics is expected to continue to increase in the future.

In order to effectively reduce the use of disposable plastics, it is important to improve ‘waste emission conditions’ and an appropriate ‘compensation system’ as a way to increase the recycling rate through the use of digital technology.

Recycle Bank, a company founded in New York in 2004, set a goal to solve the waste problem by promoting recycling by citizens, and launched a recycling rewards program in Philadelphia.
When Recycling Bank users put disposable waste into a container with a built-in RFID chip, a sensor in the container automatically measures the amount of emissions, and the emission data is automatically accumulated to provide rewards to users.

The WASTED project of the Netherlands in 2015, plastic coins were given as a reward for citizens to voluntarily participate in plastic collection, and it provided various education on the seriousness of environmental pollution caused by plastics and the meaning of recycling for young students as well as residents participating in the project. The users of the project could make ‘Wasted Block’ ,collecting waste and making other objects and they got a brochure about the project for educational purpose.

As in the examples above, digital technology can be used and applied to induce the recycling rate of disposable plastics by Seoul citizens for the environment, and this will be an efficient alternative to environmental conservation in the long term by reducing the huge amount of disposable waste produced in Seoul since the Covid-19.

About this Story
Data Sources: Seoul Digital Foundation, The Seoul Institute updated 05/11-24/2020, WiseAPP & Wise Retail, Greenpeace, Ministry of Environment / Image source: http://www.greenkorea.org/ data visualizations in Flourish