South Korea Korea plans to establish recycling standards to promote pyrolysis of waste plastics and other measures

subordinate laws and regulations in the field of resource recycling to be partially amended

Korea plans to establish recycling standards to promote pyrolysis of waste plastics and other measures

On March 4, 2022, the Ministry of Environment of South Korea issued a legislative notice, which lasts until April 13, 2022, of proposed partial amendments to the Presidential Decree on the Wastes Control Act, the Enforcement Decree of the Wastes Control Act, and the Enforcement Decree of the Construction Waste Recycling Promotion Act. With the partial amendments to these subordinate laws and regulations, the foundation for a system to recycle pyrolysis oil from waste plastics as raw material for petrochemical products in place of crude oil will be established. In addition, appropriate recycling methods and standards for domestic waste will be established, and provisions will be provided for imposing a fine for failure to follow the domestic waste disposal methods established by each local government ordinance, and for environmental arrangements for the construction of new or additional domestic waste sorting facilities.

As the amount of waste plastics generated increases during COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for stable treatment and more sophisticated recycling of waste plastics. Considering this situation, a recyclable category was added to allow oil produced by pyrolysis of waste plastics to be recycled as raw material for petrochemical products. In addition, if hydrogen is reformed and extracted from the synthesis gas produced during the pyrolysis process, it can be used for applications such as charging fuel cells and hydrogen vehicles, thus this was clearly indicated as a recyclable category as well. Pyrolysis facilities, which were previously defined as incineration facilities, will be changed to recycling facilities. The standard for recovering pyrolysis oil will be stipulated to be at least 50% of the weight of the input waste plastics, and installation/management standards appropriate for the characteristics of pyrolysis facilities will also be provided, thus establishing the legal standards necessary for recycling pyrolysis oil from waste plastics.

Also, in preparation for the increase in the number of domestic waste incineration facilities, recycling methods and standards to ensure proper disposal are established, such as allowing for the recycling of flooring materials from domestic waste incineration facilities into fill and cover materials for civil engineering and construction projects when they are mixed with general earth and sand or construction waste materials at 25% or less by volume.

Meanwhile, standards were established for the imposition of a fine for the dumping of domestic waste without complying with local government ordinances such as the use of metered garbage bags. In case of discarding domestic waste in violation of the ordinances of a metropolitan autonomous city, special self-governing province, or city/county district, the head of the relevant local government may impose a fine of 50,000 KRW for each violation.

In addition, in order to resolve complaints by nearby residents about odors and other problems at domestic waste sorting facilities, installation standards for facilities will be strengthened gradually beginning in 2024. Although the increase in the amount of waste during COVID-19 pandemic has prompted calls for the expansion of sorting facilities, sanitation and odor problems at some existing facilities have made it difficult to build new facilities or expand existing ones. Therefore, in order to ensure that cleaning water and leachate generated at sorting facilities are treated through drainage channels without leaking outside, the floors are improved to have a slope of 2% or more, except for the areas where sorting machines are installed. Also, storage facilities located inside sorting facilities must be equipped with a full floor, walls, and roof, and if a sorting facility is newly constructed within 1 km of a residential area, its storage facility is required to be located underground. To ensure that the sorting facility is maintained in a comfortable manner, the indoor work area is to be cleaned within 12 hours after the recyclables are removed from the facility, and a cleaning performance management log is to be prepared. In addition, sorting facilities of a certain size or larger shall be equipped with a plastic optical sorter to ensure that high-quality recyclables are sorted without omissions.

On the other hand, controls will also be tightened on the collection and reuse of food and beverage wastes for livestock feed. Previously, it was possible to reuse food and beverage wastes for livestock feed as long as a waste disposal declaration was filed, but hereafter, such cases will be excluded from the waste disposal declaration, and if such activities are to continue, a waste disposal license will have to be obtained from the governor of a city or province. However, if an approval for the installation of a waste treatment facility has been obtained or the declaration of installation has been completed in addition to the waste treatment declaration prior to the enactment of the proposed amendments, livestock feed may be produced with food and beverage wastes to ensure legal stability.

Furthermore, in case of outsourcing to an incineration company the treatment of combustible wastes such as waste synthetic resin and waste wood generated at construction sites and in the construction waste treatment processes, such wastes must be separated and sorted so that the content of noncombustible materials such as earth, sand, and concrete is less than 10% before being discharged. The regulations were revised to improve incineration efficiency by clarifying standards for the content of noncombustible waste in the incineration of construction waste, and to promote recycling by separating recyclable earth, sand, and concrete to the maximum extent possible.

Besides the above, the minimum capacity of newly constructed medical waste incineration facilities was raised from 1 ton per hour to 2 tons per hour. Currently, there are only 13 medical waste incineration facilities in South Korea, thus the minimum capacity of the newly constructed facilities was raised to an appropriate level in order to increase the efficiency of medical waste incineration.


For reference
Presidential Decree on the Wastes Control Act (Presidential Decree No. 32528)

Enforcement Decree of the Wastes Control Act (Ministry of Environment Decree No. 979)

Enforcement Decree of the Construction Waste Recycling Promotion Act (Ministry of Environment Decree No. 942)


The original text of this article can be found at the following URL (in Korean).;jsessionid=q5AplXdbibEWpQEq39YDEkwJ.mehome1?pagerOffset=60&maxPageItems=10&maxIndexPages=10&searchKey=&searchValue=&menuId=10525&orgCd=&boardId=1511680&boardMasterId=1&boardCategoryId=&decorator=

Author / Responsibility


Senior Research Associate, Research & Consulting Dept. EnviX Ltd.

Business Performance

In charge of South Asia (India, Bangladesh, etc.), South Korea, Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, etc.) and Turkey for managing infomation on the environmental regulations


MA, Environment, Development and Policy, University of Sussex