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[Updated] South Korea Releases New Packaging Material Requirements

The “unable to recycle" label is newly proposed. The recycling symbol texts indicating the packaging material are revised. A new exemption situation of labeling “difficult to recycle” is brought out.

Latest Update:

On July 9, 2021, the MoE issued the Guideline on Recycling Symbols and Standards of Labeling Quality, which will take effect on January 1, 2022. 

On March 24, 2021,  MOE issued the Structure of Packaging Material Gradewhich took effect immediately. 


On February 24, 2021, MOE (Ministry of Environment) released the draft of Guideline on Recycling Symbols and Standards of Labeling Quality 1 and the draft of Structure of Packaging Material Grade 2. The consultation periods of both are set to end by March 16, 2021.


On December 25, 2019, MOE enacted the Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling of Resources 3, which banned PVC materials and colored PET bottles. 

The act also required enterprises to evaluate the packaging material grade. The manufacturers or importers shall grade the recyclability of specific packaging materials into four levels: “best to recycle," "good to recycle," "normal to recycle," and "difficult to recycle".  The recyclability grade needs to be attached to the products. (Find more about the recycling requirements at ChemLinked Article 4)

Main Proposals

1. "Unable to Recycle" Symbol (draft of Guideline on Recycling Symbols and Standards of Labeling Quality 1)

MOE introduced the "unable to recycle" symbol for goods whose packaging materials cannot be recycled. When the "difficult-to-recycle" materials are mixed with other materials, or the packaging is coated or laminated with other materials, the packaging materials shall label the "unable to recycle" symbol (See Figure 1). This is to guide the consumers to send out the wastes separately.


(Figure 1. "Unable to Recycle" Symbol)

2. Modifications to Recycling Symbols (draft of Guideline on Recycling Symbols and Standards of Labeling Quality 1)


(Figure 2. Example of Recycling Symbol)

The texts of the recycling symbols are revised. As shown in Figure 2, the recycling symbols include the packaging type ("can") and packaging material ("iron"). To keep aligned with the updates in superordinate laws, the texts indicating the packaging type and material are modified as below. 

Text showing the Packaging Type

Text showing the Packaging Materials

PET-> Colorless PET

(Newly added) Bio

Plastic packs

PVC-> Bio HDPE, Bio LDPE, Bio PP, Bio PS


3. New Exemption Situation of Labeling "Difficult to Recycle" (Draft of Structure of Packaging Material Grade 2)

The products with colored or complex packaging materials to protect the product's efficacy are subject to “difficult to recycle”. Fortunately, these products are proposed to be exempted from labeling "difficult to recycle" if the relevant enterprise establishes a recycling plan (Find more information about recycling plan here 5). The recycling rates of the materials should remain 15% in 2023, 30% in 2025, and 70% in 2030 progressively.

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