Ban on plastic cups at coffee shops in Seoul cause confusion on both sides

Park Sae-jin Reporter Posted : 2018-08-03 15:42 Updated : 2018-08-03 15:42
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[Photograph by Park Sae-jin]

SEOUL -- A ban on disposable plastic cups at about 20,000 coffee shops in Seoul has caused confusion among shop operators and customers because of ambiguous rules, but city officials will not budge in order to reduce plastic pollution which has become a global issue.

In South Korea, disposable cups have been widely used to save time for washing at busy hours unless customers ask for reusable cups. On Thursday, a ban on plastic cups at coffee shops was enforced in Seoul to protect the environment and slow the process of global warming.

It is compulsory for shop owners or baristas to ask customers if they will drink inside or take out. If a customer wishes to drink inside, a mug cup or other reusable ones should be used. Other plastic tools such as cup lids and straws are still available, along with paper cups and bottled water.

"It took a lot of money to buy all these cups," a small coffee shop owner in central Seoul told Aju News, adding she has purchased stainless cups to follow guidelines. However, she complained that many customers still want to use plastic cups. "It's very hard to persuade customers who still prefer to use plastic cups."

On Friday, about 30 percent of customers were seen using plastic cups in a large coffee franchise store. "They told me that they were taking out their drinks. I don't know what to do with them," an employee said.

Shop owners caught for violating rules should be slapped with a fine of up to two million won ($1,772), but they are not able to reject requests from customers sweltered in high summer temperatures. Many want to cool off inside for a while before taking plastic ups out.

"We will try to shorten the emotional gap among city government officials, shop owners and customers," a Seoul city official said, admitting that the ban has not been implemented strictly due to confusion.

Plastic, one of the most widely used man-made materials in the world, has been mass-produced since the 1940s and it is now threatening the global environment because it takes about 1,000 years for a plastic fork to naturally decompose.

Scientists estimate that there will be more plastic waste in the sea than fish in 2050 despite an international campaign to reduce plastic waste. France will ban all disposable plates, cutlery and cups by 2020.