“The regulation starts on Friday. But it will be for informational purposes until the COVID-19 situation is resolved,” the announcement said. “Companies will not be fined for violating the regulation and we will work on further guidance.”
As the Environment Department takes a step back, environmental activists argue the ban is necessary.
In a statement released Thursday, activist group Green Korea expressed doubts that single-use cups would be wanted amid COVID-19 concerns. They pointed out that if they were worried about catching the virus from reused cups, following that logic, plates and cutlery used for dining guests should also be disposable.
“The President’s Transitional Committee should seek to allay the concerns of customers and business owners by informing them that the use of reusable products will not lead to the spread of the virus,” the statement said. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency has previously said the risk of infection from food and containers is “very low”.
Despite the assurances, customers are still worried about the inconveniences the ban could bring to their daily lives.
“It’s tricky. I am aware that we use too many disposable cups. In the summer, I drink three or four drinks (a day), which means I throw away almost 20 cups a week,” said Yoon So-hye, an office worker in her 20s.
“But I prefer single-use plastic cups because they’re more convenient than using store cups or bringing my own cup,” Yoon said. “It’s a dilemma between comfort and environment.”
The Department of the Environment will advance its single-use reduction program and tighten regulations over time.
With the COVID-19 situation improving in Korea, companies violating the regulation will be fined from 500,000 won (US$412) to 2 million won, depending on the frequency of the violation and the size of the business.
From June 10, customers at cafes and fast-food franchises will be required to leave a deposit of between 200 won and 500 won per disposable cup. They can get their deposit back after they return the used cups to the stores for recycling.
The rules will be tightened further from November 24, as foodservice establishments will be banned from handing out paper cups, plastic straws and stirrers to diners in the restaurant.
By Im Eun-byel
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