Leave It at the Trash Pole

At home we don’t think about our garbage disposal system very much, and we would probably be surprised if somebody was confused by it. Some garbage systems are more confusing than others. In Thailand, the trash system was very easy to figure out. You put your trash in one of the bins on your street and can litter as much as you want because every morning the old men on the block sweep the litter and leaves into small piles, and set them on fire. I didn’t like this system too much because I can’t stand the smell of burning plastic, but it was an easy disposal system to figure out.

Seoul is a different story. For the past two weeks I’ve really felt like I was going nuts. Buildings seem to have designated trash spots, ours is a pole to the right of our building. One of our fellow teachers explained that to us, so it was easy to figure out. She also explained that by law you are supposed to buy government issued regulation trash bags. There are two different types, white bags for trash and green bags for food waste. Recycling can be in any type of bag you like. Now, I understood this easily enough, but finding the regulation bags was impossible.

We determined that we could get away with not purchasing the white regulation trash bags because the school’s cleaning lady re-bags all of our trash into regulation bags. Nobody else at the school seems to use the green compost bags, but being the environmentalist Boulderite that I am, I got very excited over the idea of an easy compost system. I wanted the green food-waste bags, and I wanted them as soon as possible.

I looked in all of the possible places to buy them; not just once, but two, three, four times! I seriously could not find them. They weren’t in the kitchen sections of the grocery stores or in the cleaning sections. They just didn’t exist. When I checked the small corner store where she said she bought hers, I really felt like I was blind. The store has a small amount of goods to look through, unlike the massive grocery stores I’d been looking in. If I couldn’t find them in there, then they must not exist. I tried playing charades with the guy working in the shop and he understood that I wanted a bag, but he pointed at a reusable cloth bag, and then we both gave up.

Last week I was telling a different coworker my problem and she said I would find them at the checkout counters in the grocery stores. So the other day I spent a good chunk of time inspecting every single checkout counter in the grocery store. I was determined to find these mysterious trash bags and in the process I’m sure I looked completely deranged. How could such a simple task be so difficult?! I finally gave up, bought my groceries, and left, defeated.

Having one ounce of hope left, I popped into the corner store by our apartment. Outside there was a trash can with a blue trash liner. I brought the woman working in the store out to see it, and she looked at me like, “Yeah, so what?” I knew it was time to whip out my awesome charades skills and give this trash bag search one last effort.

There were potatoes next to the garbage bin, so I pretended to peel the potatoes into the bin. Her expression didn’t change. She showed me the blue plastic shopping bags hanging from the door and held up one, two, then three fingers. How many do you want? My expression was pained. I looked to my left and there was a green bag and pointed between the vegetables, the blue trashcan liner and the green bag. She was still confused, and quite rightly. Then I got an idea.

I was told they would be at the register, so I held up one finger, the universal sign for one moment, and walked over to the register area. I scoured the shelves for bags. There was still nothing there, just like the last time I looked, but I was hoping that she would put two-and-two together. This crazy girl is looking for green plastic food-waste bags, and now she is looking around the register. It clicked, and she turned to a small cubby behind her and brought out a folded pack of green plastic bags. YES! She got it! We were both so proud of ourselves. I never ever in a million years would have noticed that cubby or even seen the folded bags sitting inside it. It just goes to show that charades is not just a fun game to play at parties; it gives you tools for the rest of your life!

Finally, the elusive green food-waste bags are in our kitchen!

We’ve been using the bags for about a week now and I couldn’t be more pleased with our waste system. I have bags for paper recycling, other recycling, trash, and compost. It’s amazing how much food waste you produce every week. I have been keeping our bag in the freezer so our filthy cockroach roommates don’t have easy access to food and so our apartment doesn’t start to smell. I am very happy to live in a city that makes it easy to compost even when you don’t have access to a yard to set up a compost bin. I love Seoul!