'Plastic Mill' in Seoul fights lockdown waste

(Kim Yona): "Hello! This is Plastic Mill."

(Lee Dong-I): "We are making upcycled products like this tube squeezer by using plastic waste."

Activists Kim Yona and Lee Dong-I have opened a 'Plastic Mill' in downtown Seoul.

They melt down old plastic bottles caps that volunteers known as 'sparrows' have collected to make things like plates or even art.

Things they hope consumers will find useful and be able to keep, rather than toss out after just one use.

(Kim Yona): "Plastic is a recyclable resource, but it's way too cheap, easy to make and easily thrown away, which makes people think it's disposable."

(Lee Dong-I)"We are using small plastics which might have been discarded, so we tried to make something useful and can be used semi-permanently."

The Plastic Mill opened in July and attracted 2000 'sparrow' volunteers who collected over 85,000 bottle caps in their first collection drive.

Another 2,000 sparrows have signed up for the second round.

The name 'sparrows' plays on an old Korean proverb "a sparrow cannot pass by a mill without stopping."

It's also why they've called the workshop the 'Plastic Mill.'

They say they are fighting a tide of plastic unleashed by global lockdowns.

A surge of takeaway food and drink has fuelled a 14.6% increase in plastic production in the first eight months of the year, according to environment ministry data.

Kim and Lee said they are also testing the viability of upcycling the plastic waste into other products such as carabiners, frisbees and small plastic furniture.

(Lee Dong-I): "The most important thing is reducing plastics, and then reuse them. Third thing to do is upcycling. We are not saying the Plastic Mill is solution for plastic wastes problem."

Lee Yong-gi, a veteran of the recycling business, is also concerned about the environment.

He said that the amount of plastic waste soared by some 20% amid global lockdowns and low oil prices were undermining the profitability of recycling.

The recycling rate for collected waste fell to 40.6% in 2019 compared with 57.9% in 2015.

(Lee Yong-gi): "I've been in this business more than 40 years, but I have never seen as many plastics as these. Due to COVID-19, there has been an increase of about 20% in plastic waste. Many of them are single-use plastics and oil price also dropped, which caused a huge deficit."