​​​​Recycling in Seoul​ - the power of partnership

Now in its third year, the collaboration between Tetra Pak and the government of Seoul City demonstrates what can be achieved through partnership and a shared commitment to engaging local people in shaping the future of their city. “When we signed up to working together in 2013 it was a first,” says Communications Manager Grace Oh. “The city government had never committed to working with a foreign company in this way before.”

Building a sustainable infrastructure

Over the past year, the focus has been on recycling – not just on encouraging consumers to deal with their own waste in an environmentally responsible way, but on working with the government to build a sustainable infrastructure.

“Some apartment blocks and housing complexes have their own recycling stations, where the waste is collected by van once a week,” says Grace, “but others don’t. So the Seoul City government launched the Recycling Station project, initially as a pilot with 112 recycling stations in five different ‘dongs’ or neighbourhoods.​” ​

The government also employed a number of senior residents as resource managers to take care of the stations (see image below). “These are people who used to collect waste paper in the neighbourhood before,” Grace explains. “They were known as scavengers, which is a very negative term. Now they are being given proper support to boost their incomes.”

In each neighbourhood, between 15 and 30 resources managers are responsible for installing and removing recycling bins, and maintaining the area. In return, they earn an average of KRW 300,000 – or around US$275 – each month. As part of the push to boost recycling, the city government has also added cartons to its sorting system, alongside cans, glass bottles and plastics. Tetra Pak supports the programme by providing collection bags for the resource managers to use.

Recycling station

Recycling figures on the up

The results so far have been very promising. Government figures show a 26% increase in recyclables collected, from 10 tonnes to 13 tonnes. Household waste has dropped by more than 20%, and residents’ reported satisfaction levels have risen by 3%. Overall recycling figures for South Korea – a large proportion of which can be ascribed to Seoul, the country’s main population centre – show a rise from 23.3% in 2014 to 25.4% in 2015, and a forecast of 26.2% for 2016.

Looking ahead, the plan is to roll out the recycling initiative beyond the city limits and into the wider metropolitan area. Collection plans for the partnership in 2015 are still being finalized, but in the meantime Tetra Pak continues to work with the city government on a range of community engagement activities designed to further raise awareness of sustainability issues.

These include educational sessions in schools, mentoring for working mothers and a series of events and activities focused on a unique history of the Seoul City landscape: so-called Trash Island, a former landfill site, now regenerated to provide a green retreat from the busy city.

Comparing environmental facts

Trusted partners

Grace believes that the partnership with Seoul City is delivering benefits all round. “We are able to benefit our customers by making use of their products in our publicity materials and promotional events,” she says. “At the same time, we’re raising our own profile. That’s having a direct impact on the business and also helping to position us as trusted partners to the government. It’s still early to talk about impact, but we are generating a constant stream of positive stories that we can share with our customers and key opinion leaders. We are laying the foundations for the future.”

Recycling centre