Five things that make it easier to be green in South Korea vs Japan

Anyone that knows me personally knows that I am not a good fit for living in South Korea.  I much prefer the living and working culture in Japan over South Korea (no hate for this please, everyone has different preferences!)  That being said, I am able to give credit where credit is due. There are definitely things that I like better in South Korea (coin karaoke anyone??).  In this post, I’ve compiled a list of five things that make it easier for me to be green in South Korea.

Disclaimer: I recognize that a few of these things listed may be based on my particular location (Daegu) and the location where I lived in Japan (Sendai), but in general, I have found these things to be true in the cities I have lived in and visited in both countries.  Of course, availability of items will be different from city to city, so if you live in Seoul or Tokyo, you would have access to far more than I do.

Now, on to the list!

  • Easier to access ingredients for homemade items
The tiny-yet wonderful-DongWoo Mart. 

The lack of availability of ingredients for recipes I wanted to try in Sendai was incredibly frustrating.  For example, baking soda is so useful to the green household–used in making laundry detergent, toothpaste, cleaning, and as a shampoo replacement–but I could only find boxes of baking soda with about four tablespoons in it. By contrast, baking soda is available in bulk in South Korea even in my tiny corner market-DongWoo Mart.  

Baking soda is just one ingredient that is easier to find here.  I have also been able to get jojoba and almond oils from my local supermarket whereas in Japan, I had to import them from sites like iherb (bleh….emissions).  I am very grateful that South Korea has these things available to me.

  • Costco is accessible via public transportation
My beloved Costco. You make my life so much better.

Buying in bulk is a good way to reduce the overall waste that you produce (as long as you don’t increase your food waste as a side effect) and for the eco-friendly expat, Costco is the easiest way to buy in bulk.  When I lived in Sendai, the nearest Costco for the first three years was in the neighboring prefecture and was inaccessible without a car. It took me about three hours to get there (the one time that I did actually go).  In my last two years in Japan, a new Costco opened up just outside of Sendai, but because land prices are higher and space more limited near stations and bus routes, it was still only accessible by car.

By contrast, the Costco in Daegu is less than ten minutes away by bus.  I have also heard through the grapevine that a second Costco is due to open up in the near future for those who live on the opposite side of the city.  Buying most of my foodstuff from Costco has reduced my overall waste (and food budget) significantly and a huge part of that is because I can regularly go.  

  • Clerks are more flexible about using reusable containers
Sometimes I just gotta have junk food. Luckily, Mom’s Touch is right next door.

Many things are slightly more flexible in South Korea than in Japan, but the thing I appreciate the most is that the clerks at various places are willing to put my order in the reusable containers that I bring. Let’s first talk about the main issue with this: take out culture in Japan is not nearly as advanced as take out and delivery culture in South Korea (truly, this is a shame).  This being the case, there were still times when I didn’t want to cook so I went to a place to get take out (in Sendai). When presented with mason jar to put my drink in or other such items, the clerks in Sendai would look at me like I was asking them to do the most heinous thing ever. I got similar reactions in butcher shops and bakeries when trying to use my reusable containers.

Conversely, the take out place near my apartment has become so accustomed to my mason jar and various glass containers for food that they no longer bat an eye.  They don’t look at me dumbfounded when I ask for no straw or lid on my drink in fast food places here either. And my favorite coffee shop started giving me a discount for bringing my own mug and straw.  Small things like this make me feel much less self-conscious when trying to make earth-healthy choices.

  • Composting food waste
My new apartment complex manages to keep the trash and recycling area really clean.

I’ll admit that when I first got to South Korea, I really disliked my food composting bin.  The first apartment I lived in had it located right next to the building entrance and as a result, the whole building smelt horrendous. However, those food waste bins–along with other policies–have really decreased the amount of food waste thrown out throughout the country.  South Korea first started using the bins in 2005 to reduce the amount of food waste that went to landfills, but change really didn’t happen until 2013, when regulations were introduced that billed people for their food waste (you can watch a video about these regulations here).   

In Sendai, food waste is lumped together with all of the household burnable waste (with their incredibly strict trash separation system, it always took me forever to fill the burnable waste bag).  In some parts of the country, the city doesn’t even require residents to separate the various types of trash.  Even though many Japanese people feel that they are incredibly eco-friendly, as of 2016, Japan was still in the top three in the world for countries that produce the most food waste.  

  • Local street markets 
My friend and me at Seomun Market.

In Sendai, the closest thing I could find to a local market was a street behind the station that had seafood and produce.  Even though it was a local market, much of the stuff sold was still wrapped in plastic–which, for me, completely defeats the purpose of going to a local market!  To add insult to injury, this market was a bit of a trek from my place, so in my eyes, it had very little going for it in the ‘pros’ column.

On the flip side, there is an amazing–albeit small–local market near my apartment.  The best part–a very good selection of foodstuffs can be purchased without plastic! I can go there with my glass containers and cloth shopping bags and get all my produce for cooking throughout the week.  I can also pick up rice and beans as well (dried beans were hard to find in Sendai and typically expensive). A little farther from my house is Seomun Market–one of South Korea’s oldest and largest markets.  While known as being a fun thing for tourists to do, it is important for the residents as well!  I usually go here to buy my nuts in bulk, as well as loads of dried fruit and veggies.  Oh, and all the things needed for making and tailoring clothes!  

Final thoughts:

And there you have it!  Of course, these are only the things that I have picked up in the short time that I have lived in Daegu.  I am sure that I will find more things that South Korea does to make its environmentally-minded residents happy the longer I live here.  My next post will be about things that Japan does to encourage more earth-healthy lifestyles.  


How about you?  What things are better in your host country that in your previous country?  Post a comment below!



  1. Wow! This is good to know, Thanks.
    But for those living in Japan: they’ve started selling bigger packs of baking soda in drugstores like Matsumoto Kiyoshi in the cleaning products area. It’s still in plastic bags though.


    1. This is really good information! I wonder how long they have been doing that? Unfortunately, the big bags here are in plastic bags too. Hopefully things will get better in the future.


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