South Korea, according to the Ministry of Environment.
In theory, all waste produced in the country is handled in one of three ways: it is either rec
ycled, processed into fuel, or incinerated. But a series of events in recent years have disrupted this system.
In 2017, a surge in smog levels prompted the governmen
t to tighten regulations on waste-to-energy plants and waste incineration facilities which wer
e blamed for belching out polluting fumes, says Sung Nak-kuen of the Korea Waste Association.
Consequently, the number of incineration facilities fell from
611 in 2011 to 395 last year. And with the waste-to-energy plants feeling the squeeze, dem
and for solid recovered fuel — non-recyclable plastic and paper burned for heat and energy — has collapsed.
But in late 2017, China banned the import of 24 types
of solid waste, including paper and plastic, extending it in April last year to include dozens more type
s of recyclable materials, including steel waste, used auto parts and old ships.
Exports of plastic waste from South Korea to China fell by ove
r 90%, according to the Korea International Trade Association. Trash overflowed on the
streets of Seoul as the waste management companies refused to collect it.