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Last year I wrote a post about redundant packaging and waste, one about an unsightly experience along the Han River and another about Seoul’s trash mountain,  but it wasn’t until just a week ago that something really set in.

Most of my 3rd and 4th grade students students are home playing or more likely at some sort of camp or academy getting extra class time for about 4 weeks. 11 of them wound up with me and my co worker for our school’s winter camp, which I was tasked with organizing.

They say if you are passionate about something that will come across and inspire others to be so aswell. Perhaps I chose a topic that is a little depressing but caring for the environment is the most important task at hand and will ultimately fall on the shoulders of my student’s generation; counting on the older generation is looking a bit grim.

I tried to have a good mix between games, crafts, movie clips and presentation/ note taking (they are kids but good habits start young, just a few key words and key sentences). we played recycled bottle bowling, diverting some waste, we made Soy based candles, while not perfect are much more eco friendly than standard candles, we made natural soap and went to Seoul Energy Dream Center; Korea’s First and only modern energy neutral building, and watched clips from Wall-E, but during all of this I just couldnt help see the irony. All of the kids snacks were packaged in plastic and disposable, the kids burned through disposable plastic gloved just to make a natural, clay dyed bandana. I forwent the gloved and the coloring washed off my hands no problem. We used throw-away chopsticks to hold our wicks in place when making the candles and then threw them in the garbage with out any other use.

When I got home I told my girlfriend and we started looking on youtube and found this girl, Lauren Singer, who only made a mason jar of garbage in two years:

Lauren was inspired by this lady who we found next. Bea Johnson lives a zero waste life with her husband and two teenage sons. The surprising thing is that after her husband ran the numbers comparing spending before and after they began teh zero waste life and found about a 20 percent reduction in spending.

While at the Seoul Energy Dream Center I noticed the Mapo Marine and Agricultural Market but having 11 kids with me i didnt get a chance to look.  So today, the second day of the new year, I got on my bike for teh first time in months and realized I had no air in the tires… I went and aired them up and crossed the Han river and over to teh market, a 5km one way trip.




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My goal for the day was to source packag free chicken, eggs (where I could bring and use my own carton) seaweed (the one we buy now accounts for a large portion of our trash as it is indiviually packaged, single serving sizes) and to scout out anything else.

I was able to find seawed with considerably less packaging, I found some beans and rice by weight but somehow even at a wholesale market stuff was still individually wrapped, or padded. IMG_0046 IMG_0045 IMG_0041

I would not find any chicken other than frozen and in plastic bags  and eggs all came in big two dozen cartons, which are recycled cardboard but I couldnt imagine riding the return trip with 48 eggs.

Feeling defeated and with limited stocks at home i had to put some package free food on the proverbial table. I had two spots where there is usually some package free options; our local corner produce man. He must take saturdays off; no luck there. The second option was a step up, a supermarket under ground near the subway station, that we only recently discovered after 6 months in the neighborhood.

Walking in with this new mindset put 99 percent of products out of reacch. plastic is ubiquitious. My vice is juice. I drink way too much, but less than I used to. I was hoping to score a glass bottle juice but every single one was plastic except a welches grape juice at almost 5 bucks a liter. No thanks.

I made my way back to teh seafood section. Ji and I really enjoy these small clams they have here. Sometimes we can get an amazing deal at the huge supermarket. The price wasn’t great but it was a package free option for dinner so I asked the guy behind the counter for a half kilo and motioned him to put it into my container and told him in my limited Korean, “no bag please. I dont want trash.” Before i could react he blast around the corner, hands diving into the bucket of fresh bivalves, scooping them into a plastic bag. Fail. Big fail.


The produce section was my last chance to succeed. The Leafy greens cooler, shrouded in a cool, misty, cloud, encircled by rolls of thin plastic bags called me. Strategic knowledge only atained from time in Korea told me to procede with caution. Halmonis are known for their relentless jostling.  I moved around the old woman bagging up what I think is Swiss chard and claimed my space. Pulled out my Lock & Lock and lined up to grab a few handfulls of baby bok choi. The weighing station was unattended so i put the boc choi on  the scale and the ajuma came shuffling over with a plastic bag already in her hand waving in to catch air so that it would open. I have to think positive and silently thank her for helping the unaware foreigner who doesn’t know to use a bag. Like i did with the guy at the fish counter, I more emphatically expressed my wish for no trash and the woman gave a smirk and stuck the price sticker on the lid.

Something about this small challenge to the system that says we have to take a plastic bag gave me that feeling like you are a kid doing something you know you shouldn’t. Except this, you should.

I miss the produce ladies in Spain. They were so friendly and everything came wraped in recycled paper.


This is only the begining. I will be back with more containers and more reusable bags.