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Do You Want to Live In Microplastic Air?
(ocean.org)

People use plastics every day. As plastic consumption increases, our earth is getting more polluted, further negatively influencing the future environment. Hence, in May, the Ministry of Environment will distribute an application that gives the deposit back in return for used plastic cups and restart the Disposable Cup Deposit System (DCDS) in June. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) would like to introduce how the policy works, the related concerns, and possible solutions.

The Disposable Cup Deposit System

What Is a Disposable Cup Deposit System?

The government will enforce a Disposable Cup Deposit System (DCDS) in several cafés and bakeries starting from June. The DCDS is a policy in which consumers get a deposit when they return used plastic cups to stores. First, the Ministry of Environment will standardize every plastic cup: this standardization will make consumers return the cups more easily and activate recycling. Each cup will contain a recycling label with a barcode; consumers can receive \300 for each plastic cup if they recognize the bar code in the reader. There are two methods to get the deposit: cash and account transfer payments. Consumers who want the account transfer system should install an application that will be distributed in May by the Ministry of Environment. The DCDS was first introduced in 2003, but it failed due to consumers’ low participation rate. Then, this policy restarted as the Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling of Resources was revised in June 2020. It aims to control the total amount of plastic, which causes serious environmental problems. However, this policy is not applied to every store but only to large-sized cafés, bakeries, and fast-food restaurants with more than 100 franchises domestically. The Ministry of Environment anticipates decreasing more than 66% of greenhouse gases and earning \44.5 billion annually when this new policy is revitalized.

Impacts of the Consumption of Plastic on Earth

Korea is the third ranked country in terms of disposable plastic emissions per person, following Australia and America. The international environment protection organization, Greenpeace Korea, announced the Plastic Korea Report, saying that one person uses 65 disposable plastic cups per year. According to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), the emission rate of greenhouse gases reached 850 million tons in 2019. This is high enough to harm both the environment and the human body. Most plastics break down into microplastics, and they threaten human health by staying in the air. In December 2021, the Hull York Medical School research team announced in the Journal of Hazardous Materials that microplastics harmfully influence human cells. Based on their research, when humans inhale or intake a high rate of microplastics, self-destruction of cells and allergic reactions happen in the human body. Moreover, Cesco Foreign Material Analysis Center reported an analysis of microplastics in the recent rain in Seoul. 95 and 40 microplastics were found in the rainwater per 100 milliliters of June and July 2021. To help save the earth, South Korea set the goal of reducing the emission rate of greenhouse gases by 30% before 2030. Therefore, the Ministry of Environment came up with DCDS to achieve the goal successfully.

The Plastic Rain (plasticcollective.co)

Concerns about the Disposable Cup Deposit System

Further Possible Environmental Pollution

The Eco-friendly Cleaning Kit (blueland.com)

Despite the positive effects of DCDS, there are concerns about how the policy can possibly cause further environmental pollution. The main issue is increased detergent consumption after the policy’s enforcement. Detergents with a chemical composition can also negatively influence the environment as they emit microplastics since the liquid is in a plastic container with a plastic cap. Additionally, a liquid detergent hardly decomposes with microorganisms, and the surfactant in the detergent creates bubbles making the membrane on the water surface; the bubbles flow into lakes and rivers and create a membrane, blocking sunlight and oxygen on the water surface. This process negatively affects water quality and aquatic plants. As such, detergents can be a main destroyer of the environment. When the policy begins, plastic cups will be washed one by one, but this can increase the amount of detergent. Then, the ultimate rate of environmental pollution would not change due to the negative effects of cleansers. Besides this, the increased usage of coffee mugs in the stores also increases detergent consumption, so having customers use coffee mugs to save the environment can be a contradiction. Thus, there should be regulations on the detergent used to wash recyclable plastic cups and coffee mugs.

The Policy Only Leaving Inconvenience

Since the policy is applied to large-sized companies possessing more than 100 franchises domestically, smallsized companies will continue to use disposable plastic cups. Thus, when the policy is enforced, customers might prefer to visit small-sized stores since returning the recyclable cups is inconvenient. A Kingo (Junior, Department of French Language and Literature) says that she will visit cafés with no policy because those cafés’ beverages are as diverse and delicious as other large-sized cafés, and revisiting the stores only to return the cups would be cumbersome. As a result, the participation rate of the policy might be low due to the selected application. Since the policy failed once in 2003 due to the low participation rate, the upcoming enforcement can repeat the same mistake. Reducing the total amount of disposable plastic cups, which is the ultimate purpose of this system, would not become a reality, and this policy might only leave inconvenience to customers. Consequently, with the standardization of every recyclable cup, the marketing methods of using the unique design of cups would not work anymore. Promoting the stores and brands by printing companies’ logos would become impossible. Moreover, since the size of cups will also be standardized, some brands would lose their identity and signature menu item, which is the bulk beverage of one liter. Like this, policy enforcement can cause inconvenience to customers and stores. Therefore, it is crucial to simultaneously find a better way to save the earth and solve the inconvenience of the policy.

Possible Solutions to the Policy

Establishing Sanitation and Cleansing Guidelines

There should be specific guidelines for washing recyclable cups and coffee mugs in stores and pick-up companies. If both stores and pick-up companies use eco-friendly detergents and pick-up companies pick up the recyclable plastic cups in a fixed time, there will be an alleviation in both the sanitation and environmental problems. Besides, if the Ministry of Environment prioritizes eco-friendly cleansing methods, the criticism of being contradictory would disappear. The Ministry of Environment should monitor whether or not the stores and pick-up companies are using eco-friendly detergent to increase their credibility. Through this method, customers can gain trust, and the stores can reduce the burdens to manage returned recyclable cups with the help of pick-up companies. As a result, this policy can be stamped on customers positively.

Boosting the Participation Rate

To increase the participation rate of this policy, the government should inform about the seriousness of environmental pollution to the public and ask for help. According to the national environmental perception research done by Korea Environment Institute (KEI), 51.6% of the public gets information about the environment on a portal, and television and social media are the next most used medium. Thus, promoting the policy itself and giving more information through the internet portal would be most effective. If the articles informing the seriousness of environmental pollution and how the public should behave to save the earth are arranged on the top of the portal, more people will be exposed to them. Promoting some advertisements about the policy through television and social media and making some events that people can participate in can be effective as well. As more people perceive the seriousness of environmental pollution and the existence of the policy, the participation rate will increase, changing people’s awareness of the DCDS.

The Starbucks Logo on Plastic Cups (stories.starbucks.com)

Are you reading this article with a cup of coffee in a disposable plastic cup? Until now, we have been harming our environment too much and accumulating non-biodegradable trash. If this custom continues, we might live in microplastic air, threatening our health. The disposable cup deposit system is a golden opportunity to protect our future environment. Let’s join together to protect the environment!

윤지민  linda0202g.skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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