Authors: Jong Ho Hong; Yongjin Lee

Beginning in the early 1960s, industrialization fueled rapid economic growth in the Republic of Korea. In the late 1980s, the level of waste generation emerged as a serious social problem. Economic growth led to a general increase in consumption, resulting in a nationwide increase in waste. The Nanji landfill, which had been sufficient for waste from Seoul and the surrounding areas since its inauguration in 1978, was projected to be oversaturated in 1993. However, selecting a new site for facilities to substitute for the Nanji landfill became a controversial issue, as residents near the proposed sites objected to the creation of waste management facilities. As public debate spread and the Korean public became more aware of the ever-growing waste problem, the government began to devise responses, including the introduction of a legal framework for waste management. The Waste Management Act, enacted in 1986, laid a foundation for waste management, categorizing different types of waste and clarifying who would be responsible for managing each type. In 1992, the Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling of Resources was enacted to establish the principles for resource circulation, thereby setting restrictions on disposable items and materials and methods for packaging. 

The challenge for Korea was designing and implementing an effective and sustainable waste management program, in particular, one that would promote recycling for a range of materials (including packaging waste, tires, and large home appliances). Waste management is a common development challenge in many countries. As economic activities increase, so does waste generation; without waste management capabilities, waste management becomes a serious issue.

This case study, as well as a delivery note adapted by Yongjin Lee from the original case study, examines how these policies were implemented, with a focus on how policy evolved to expand producer responsibility - from a deposit refund system to extended producer responsibility.