Members of the World Progress Now team were on assignment in Asia this past March. It was a great opportunity to research whether or not responsible tourism has in the very least a tentative infrastructure. Asia is one of the biggest polluters of plastic in the world and we wanted to know if this kind of waste is avoidable.
In many of the past blog posts there has been a revealing yet negative tone towards tourism. I would like to point out that World Progress Now, as an organization is an unequivocal supporter of tourism. We believe that tourism, if done right, can increase value of all parties involved. Our pursuit is one of responsibility in movement. When we leave our doors we need to think of our impact on the surrounding environment, economy, and culture.
As we walked through our own door in Sonoma County, California we wondered how these foreign cultures were dealing with waste and how we could get the word out about the responsible tourism movement. When friends of ours found out of our return to Korea, we were asked to share our vision with a fifth grade class at Seoul International School. The class had been learning the impacts of plastic and whether or not plastic water bottles should be banned. They were very responsive to the material we exposed them to and seemed to share our concerns with the environment and health due to plastic use. Students at that age seem to be more receptive to changes in their daily habits due to their lack of time to develop long-term “bad” habits.
The students took our pledge to reduce plastic waste and to be more responsible as they move through life. When we finished and moved through Seoul, we found that plastic use at grocery stores in terms of individually wrapping vegetables and fruit had increased in the two years that we were last there. We were floored that plastic use had increased, although it seems that plastic use correlates with how well an economy is doing, and Korea’s economy is still blowing up.
There is a silver lining to Korea’s plastic use. The first is that there are alternatives; at many grocery stores shoppers can avoid plastic by using recycled cardboard boxes. Another way to avoid plastic water bottles is that in most Korean restaurants and public places there are hydration stations and fountains.
Our good Korean friend and long time Seoul resident stated that the younger generation is starting to see that responsible interactions with the environment are necessary. She also stated that if the government in Korea were to ban or stop using single-use plastic then it would almost happen overnight. Korea is like a lot of the world and has been sold on the idea of sanitation and value wrapped in plastic. The fact that plastic is easily avoidable and the students were so open to change places a bright spot on the Land of the Morning Calm.