Today in Seoul 59: Talking Trash

December 15, 2016

In our neighborhood, trash mostly goes out on the corner, although a few buildings have small dumpsters. You’re supposed to put it out only between 8–11 p.m. at night, and be sure to put the right stuff in the correct bags. You don’t run food waste down the disposal here: the kitchen sink has a plastic insert in the drain — you lift it out and dump the stuff into a yellow bag. We keep ours in the freezer until it’s full. Not all food waste qualifies — no egg shells or teabags, I learned writing this post, and we’ve been doing both. Oops. Fish bones yes, poultry and animal bones no, seafood shells no…. They use about 10% of the food waste for animal feed and fertilizer, then burn the rest to generate electricity. Recycling doesn’t get its own colored bag; you put it in a net bag out at the curb that’s woefully too small so it always has stuff piled on top of and around it. The rest of the household trash goes in a different color bag that varies by neighborhood — white, here in Gangnam. We didn’t know that until I checked for this post. The color was blue in Gillian’s old neighborhood, so we were using her old bags. Oops again. We’ll fix that — otherwise the trash men might report the landlord, who gets fined. You buy the colored bags at the supermarket or local grocery store, or better yet the convenience stores — there are as many of those as there are coffee shops. But you can’t just buy the bags off the shelf: they’re kept behind the counter, like cigarettes back home, so you have to ask for them — which is a language challenge all its own, as Janet learned the first few time she tried and either got funny looks or came home with extra grocery bags. You’re gonna talk trash in Korea, you gotta do it right!