During my time as a reporter here at the Tiger Times, I have read and even written multiple articles regarding the issue of disposable plastics in South Korea. The newspaper has suggested a variety of solutions to address this growing problem, ranging from increasing governmental intervention to making more environmentally conscious purchases, and I was curious to see if I could adopt some of these suggestions into my everyday life. Inspired to make a change, I challenged myself to not use any single-use plastics for a week, starting from Nov. 21.
I was already off to a rocky start on day one. As a student traveling to and fro school, hagwons, and my home, I commonly stop by convenience stores for a quick snack. Unfortunately for me, almost all the goods in these stores are wrapped in plastic, and I was ultimately forced to give up my guilty pleasure: junk food. However, I refused to go down without a fight. I tried to avoid this problem by looking for snacks that were packaged in paper or cardboard containers. Much to my dismay, after buying some chips that appeared to be packaged in a small cardboard box, I soon realized that the snack was wrapped up in plastic it was packaged in the box. It was the first day of the challenge, and I had already failed.
After the convenience store fiasco on day one, I decided to test my luck at a local café. It was a lazy Saturday morning, and I proudly handed over my stainless steel tumbler to receive my drink. I also ordered a bagel on the side, which I specifically asked the barista to wrap in paper rather than in plastic. As expected, the barista handed me my coffee in my reusable tumbler and had wrapped my bagel in a paper wrapper. I happily took my food and drink out of the café, mentally giving myself a pat on the back for being environmentally friendly. Then I realized that the “paper” in which my bagel was wrapped in was actually lined with a thin layer of plastic. Plastic was hidden everywhere I went.
On the final day of the challenge, I decided to venture into an environmentalist’s worst nightmare: the grocery store. Armed with a canvas tote bag on my side, I felt ready to take on any plastic that would come my way. Unfortunately, there were exactly two items that were not packaged in some form of plastic: a carton of milk and a 10kg bag of rice. As I walked out of the store empty handed, I watched as a customer placed a plastic-wrapped head of lettuce into a plastic produce bag, only to then place it into a plastic shopping bag. Watching this scene unfold before my eyes, I realized how we are all so deeply entrenched in a disposable culture.
Despite my mistakes throughout the week, it would be impossible to say that the challenge was completely devoid of success. My plastic consumption for the entire week totaled a mere 104 grams, a fraction of the 1.99 kilograms of garbage the average person produces per day, according to National Geographic. Although it was extremely difficult, I was able to significantly reduce my plastic-usage and make a positive impact on the environment. I also kept a lot of good habits even after the challenge was over. For example, I continue to use a reusable water bottle that I bought for the week, and I have convinced my mom to use a canvas tote bag when going to the grocery store.
By the end of the week, I came to realize just how much plastic our society uses, and how difficult it is to avoid in present day. Although I was successful in reducing my overall plastic usage, it was an extremely difficult task. Almost everything that we consume is packaged in plastic in some way, and despite even the best efforts by the consumer, I don’t think our society is ready to go completely plastic-free. Without collective, grassroots demands for legislative reform, Korea will not be ready to transition. That is not to say that we cannot make small adjustments on a daily basis. For example, by investing in a stainless steel water bottle, I was able to completely avoid those made of plastic. By making minor substitutions, we can create major changes.