November 08, 2023 13:19
The Environment Ministry has decided to scrap a ban on single-use paper cups in coffee shops and restaurants and extended the grace period for plastic straws and plastic bags in convenience stores. The ministry said the measure is aimed at easing the financial burden on small businesses already hit hard by soaring interest rates and high inflation, but it flies in the face of the global trend, and single-use plastics and paper cups are a main cause of environmental degradation.
The government was poised to start a crackdown fining violators on Nov. 24, and many stores were already preparing to adhere to the ban. The sudden U-turn on an important environmental policy comes at the 11th hours without even a convincing explanation. Consumers too were already getting used to carrying reusable cups, and now everything that has already been accomplished goes up in smoke. No alternatives to reduce disposables have been proposed since the government also effectively scrapped a plan by the previous administration to get consumers to pay a deposit for disposable cups by leaving it up to each municipality to enforce it.
Koreans threw away 29.4 billion disposable cups in 2018. New Zealand banned the use of plastic straws in July of this year, the EU prohibited all disposable plastic products in 2021, and even Vietnam plans to follow suit in hotels and tourist attractions from 2025. Korea is the only country bucking the trend. A survey conducted by the ministry last year showed that 87 percent of Koreans say it is necessary to bolster restrictions on disposables. In other words, people are more than willing to endure some inconvenience to reduce disposables, but now the government has made everything go to waste.
Just like the ban on short selling announced recently, the latest measure is widely seen as an attempt to woo votes ahead of the general elections next April. The previous administration even used cash handouts. But President Yoon Suk-yeol had vowed not to use such populist tactics. There are things that can be done but should not be done in the name of politics, and scrapping the ban on disposable cups is one of them.
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