Living in Seoul: Trash Bags and Social Anxiety


During my third time in Korea, one of the things I struggled with the most was one of the simplest household tasks – taking out the trash. It may be second nature to Seoulites who are accustomed to buying the correct regulated trash bags in the right size, sorting out what goes in which bag, and then figuring out where and when they’re allowed to actually put the filled bags outside their homes…

But it wasn’t so easy for me.

Waste is regulated, and so there are different bags depending not only on the type of waste you’re getting rid of, but also based on where you live. For example, my food bag was bright yellow and was the type of food bag you use if you live in my neighborhood. I had a different bag to use if I were throwing out non-food waste, and that, too, corresponded to where I was creating the waste (in a little 원룸 in 홍대).

There was an added element to the difficulty I had, an element that was all in my head. I felt really uncomfortable carrying my bags of trash out to the designated corner where, a couple times a week, I was allowed to add my bags to a growing pile – but only after sundown, and only before a certain time at night. But I lived in Hongdae, right near several BBQ restaurants and right on the edge of an area filled with famous cafes, which meant I had to walk out at night while girls passed me in club gear and men smoked on the corner and huge groups laughed and chattered over 삼겹살. I was an obvious foreigner with a lion’s mane of golden curls, and unlike the other foreigners who were the streets to bar hop or go clubbing, I was carrying a small army of tiny bags of trash. I accidentally had bought a pack of far too many of the smallest size of trash bags.


Stares. Stares galore. So I perfected a disinterested mask and coolly made my way across the street and down to the corner, casually placed my bags with the rest, and made my way back to my 원룸, acting as if I had no idea I was sparking curious looks from every single person who saw me.

Don’t fret if you’re going to be living in Seoul and producing bags of trash – just go to the closest convenience store, or better yet, find the nearest one that isn’t a chain. The workers tend to be more knowledgeable about the area and always sell the relevant trash bags or 쓰레기 봉투. The bags for food waste are called 음식물쓰레기 봉투. Bags aren’t terrible expensive, maybe about 3,000 won for a pack of twenty of the smallest ones.

The hardest part may be simply figuring out when your area has trash pick up days, and where you’re allowed to leave your bags. If you have a landlord, ask them; if you have a neighbor or a convenience store extremely close by, they’re also great resources. Don’t be afraid to simply ask!


실례~ 실례합니다~

읽어 주셔서 감사합니다!

지금 재생 중:


2 thoughts on “Living in Seoul: Trash Bags and Social Anxiety

  1. In the area where I lived in Seoul last year, they just put all kinds of garbage in one bag and put it in front of the apartment building. Most of the time they didn’t even put it in a 쓰레기 봉투 and just put it on the street. I saw kinda gross things there haha

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ewwww hahah yeah by the end of the night, right before everything gets picked up, those piles smell awful. There’s something distinctive about midnight in Seoul and the smell of food waste and used toilet paper…I’m glad to see that there are starting to be some public trashcans – the one in Hongdae has CCTVs all over it and guidelines about proper usage.

      Liked by 1 person

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