Several ministries and organizations are involved in Republic of Korea’s National Marine Litter Management Committee (Table 1)

Table 1. Republic of Korea’s National Marine Litter Management Committee

Relevant Agencies


Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries Management of marine litter; provide support to local governments; developing marine litter collection and prevention infrastructure
Ministry of Environment Management of land-based litter; provide support to local governments; management of resource circulation, waste disposal, recycling, and Extended Producer Responsibility schemes
Ministry of Economy and Finance Provide budget for marine litter management
Engage in diplomatic relations regarding foreign-based litter and transboundary marine litter
Promote life-cycle management of marine plastic; advance resource circulation of marine litter; develop alternative resources.
Support local government and ministry efforts to target waste management in island areas of which includes marine litter.
Develop marine litter collection and prevention infrastructure
Monitor and evaluate microplastics in consumer-based products
Enforcement of marine litter regulations
Implementation of marine litter regulations; operate marine litter facilities; collect and dispose of waste
Provide relevant information on marine litter and participate in marine litter management activities

Source: Kim, 2021


Kim, K. 2021. Marine Litter Management System in Korea. Unpublished work.

Despite being a relatively small country in terms of landmass, Republic of Korea’s development experience illustrates the pollution problems many countries face. Korea’s successful rapid industrial and economic growth is considered one of the most remarkable capitalist development stories. In a matter of decades, Korea’s economy transformed from an impoverished agrarian economy to a modern industrial economy (Kim and Song, 2007). After the Korean War ended, Korea underwent rapid industrialization, exploiting natural resources and releasing enormous amounts of pollution into the air and waterways (Han, 2015).

Under Park Chung-Hee’s (1963-1979) authoritarian presidency, the economy was labor-intensive, relied on the heavy chemical industry, and was driven by export-led growth. The government and chaebol groups, Korean family-led business conglomerates, pushed for economic growth and ignored the impact that the rapid development had on the environment. Domestic environmental movements were suppressed, and environmental problems were not reported since the government tightly controlled the media. In the 1970s, environmental groups existed only for victim compensation, but they were local, disorganized, and ineffective (Moon and Lim, 2002).

The end of the Park regime opened Korean society, allowing civil movements to emerge with renewed strength (Kim and Song, 2007). In the 1980s, under President Chun Doo-Hwan’s regime, environmental groups and movements started to mobilize against pollution from industrial areas, the Environment Administration was created, and victims of environmental injustice were compensated and/or relocated (Ku, 1996). In 1987, during the transition to democracy from the Chun regime, the government’s control of information on environmental issues was loosened, environmental problems were more visible, government responsiveness to public concerns increased, and stakeholders were mobilized to address environmental issues (Moon and Lim, 2002). Following industrialization and increased observations of debris in coastal areas, the Korean government and its citizens became more attentive and pressured to address environmental issues, including marine debris (Sung et al., 2005). This broader mobilization prompted the first significant governmental response to coastal plastic pollution.

In the 1990s, responding to the enormous masses of trash found near the coast, Korea enacted trailblazing marine litter management strategies and technologies to address coastal litter. Most of the land-based marine debris originates from large cities like Incheon, Seoul, and Busan and flows out of the Han River, Keum River, Youngsang River, Seomjin River, the Nakdong River, among others, during the summer flooding season (Cho, 2005). Korea’s fishing and aquaculture industry was identified as the primary culprit of releasing large quantities of marine debris (i.e., derelict fishing gear) at sea as well as polluting coastal waters with Styrofoam buoys, nets, and nylon ropes (Kang et al., 2001; Cho, 2005; Jang et al., 2014). Government surveys demonstrated a loss of fishery productivity due to marine debris by 10-20 percent and 20-30 percent loss in aquaculture productivity (Cho, 2005).

Korea’s investment in managing marine debris continued into the 21st century. In a 2008 Korean national survey, Styrofoam buoys accounted for more than 10% of marine debris collected from beaches. Participant workshops with fishers, governmental organizations, and NGOs identified a “lack of understanding on the negative impacts of Styrofoam marine debris” and economic and social incentives as one of the causes that lead to the intentional discard of buoys by fishers (Lee et al., 2015).

In 2012, land-based litter accounted for approximately 36% of the total marine debris at sea and coastal areas, where ocean-based industries, explicitly fishing and aquaculture, accounted for most of the marine debris at sea and in coastal waters (Jang et al., 2014; Russi, 2016). In 2018, 176,000-tons of marine debris were generated by the Korean peninsula; 67% of the debris was land-based, and 33% was sea-based, whereas less than 10% of the total is foreign-based (Cho, 2018). Most of the land-based debris originated from natural disasters (i.e., construction and wood debris), while sea-based debris was derelict fishing gear.

In 2010, over 64% of the Korean population lived in coastal and riverine areas (Jung et al., 2010). As a response to increasing coastal populations and concerns of marine debris outflows, the central government has implemented nationwide coastal cleanups, stricter regulations on waste management, and marine waste buyback programs (Jung et al., 2010; NOWPAP CEARAC, 2013; Hong et al., 2013).  The growing concern about plastic pollution has pressured the Korean government to implement more aggressive policies to regulate the release of microplastics into Korean waters. According to a Korean national survey conducted by Greenpeace in 2016, most Korean participants displayed concern about microplastic pollution and specified that the national government should implement microplastic policies. Furthermore, in a survey of the Seoul metropolitan area, most participants expressed concern about the impacts of microplastics and were willing to pay to remove them along with aggressive government policies (Choi and Lee, 2018).


The 2007 Marine Environment Management Act

  • The regulation aimed to preserve and manage the marine environment by preventing, collecting, and reducing marine litter (MOF, n.d.). In Article 2.4, “waste” is defined as a ‘substance which is useless in such form when discharged into the sea and which adversely affects or is likely to affect the marine environment’. The definition of ‘litter’ is critical in creating a comprehensive plan.
  • Article 24.1 legally requires the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries (MOF) to draft and establish a National Plan for Marine Litter Management every five years. The MOF and Korea Marine Environment Management Corporation enforce the plan and participate in the monitoring of marine litter. The Korean Coast Guard and Ministry of Environment are included but not required to participate in the drafting of the plans.
  • Article 24.1 was deleted on December 3rd, 2019, and reassigned to the 2020 Management Act of Marine Litter and Contaminated Marine Sediment Act
  • This regulation, however, failed to clearly define plastic waste and microplastics. It also did not promote inter-ministerial coordination and collaboration and did not include the total amount of marine litter.

The 2020 Marine Garbage and Contaminated Marine Sediment Act

  • The passage of the Marine Garbage and Contaminated Marine Sediment Act, hereafter, the Marine Litter Management Act (MLM Act), addresses the limitations of the 2007 Marine Environment Management Act and enforces strict measures to prevent the flow of land-based litter into the ocean, and demands experts to clearly define microplastics and plastic waste. Furthermore, it places more pressure on the prevention and reduction meanwhile promoting regulatory interventions such as the ‘polluter pays’ principle. The MLM Act also created the National Marine Litter Management Committee, which consists of relevant agencies and organizations that must coordinate marine litter management. The act establishes a legal basis for inter-ministerial coordination as well as prevention and reduction of marine litter.


Cho, D. (2005), “Challenges to Marine Debris Management in Korea.” Coastal Management 33 (4): 389–409.

Cho, S. Y. (2018), National Marine Litter Management Program of RO Korea: Results on 10 Years of Practice. (accessed 7 September 2019).

Choi, E., and Lee, J.S. (2018), “The Willingness to Pay for Removing the Microplastics in the Ocean – The Case of Seoul Metropolitan Area, South Korea.” Marine Policy 93 (July): 93–100.

Government of Korea (2009), Marine Environment Management Act. (accessed 7 September 2022)

Government of Korea (2020), Management of Marine Garbage and Contaminated Marine Sediment Act. (accessed 7 September 2022)

Han, H. (2015), “Authoritarian Environmentalism under Democracy: Korea’s River Restoration Project.” Environmental Politics 24 (5): 810–29.

Hong, S., Lee J., Jang Y. C., Kim Y.J., Kim H. J., Han D., Hong S.H., Kang D., and Shim W.J. (2013), “Impacts of Marine Debris on Wild Animals in the Coastal Area of Korea.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 66 (1–2): 117–24.

Jang, Y. C., Lee, J., Hong S., Mok, J. Y., Kim, K. S., Lee Y. J., Choi, H., Kang, H., and Lee. S., (2014), “Estimation of the Annual Flow and Stock of Marine Debris in South Korea for Management Purposes.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 86 (1–2): 505–11.

Jung, R., Sung H.G., Chun, T., and Keel. S. (2010), “Practical Engineering Approaches and Infrastructure to Address the Problem of Marine Debris in Korea.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 60 (9): 1523–32.

Kang, C.G. et al. (2001), ‘Fact-Finding Investigation of Sustained Sea-Bed Litters in Korean Portsand Harbors’, KRISO/K.” n.d.

Kim, H., and Song, P., eds. (2007), Modern Korean Society: Its Development and Prospect. Korea Research Monograph 30. Berkeley, Calif: Center for Korean Studies, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California.

Ku, D. (1996), “The Structural Change of the Korean Environmental Movement.” Korea Journal of Population and Development 25 (1): 155–80.

Lee, J., Hong, S., Jang, Y.C., Lee, M.J., Kang, D., and Shim, W.J. (2015), “Finding Solutions for the Styrofoam Buoy Debris Problem through Participatory Workshops.” Marine Policy 51 (January): 182–89.

Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) (n.d.). Key Components of the 1st Framework on Marine Debris Management (2021-2030). (accessed 7 September 2022)

Moon, C., and Lim, S. (2002), “Weaving through Paradoxes: Democratization, Globalization and Environment Politics in South Korea.” In Public Policy in the Age of Globalization, edited by Helge Hveem and Kristen Nordhaug, 71–95. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Russi, D. (2016), “ANNEX to Marine Litter: Socio-Economic Study. Case 2: Marine Litter and Fisheries.” IEEP.

Sung, H., Jung, R., Kim, S., Kang, C., and Keel, S. (2005), “Integrated Treatment System to Marine Debris at Korean Offshore.” (accessed 19 September 2022).

Northwest Pacific Action Plan Special Monitoring and Coastal Environmental Assessment Regional Activity Centre (NOWPAP CEARAC) (2013), Monitoring and Management of Marine Protected Areas in the NOWPAP Region. (accessed 19 September 2022)

Fishing Gear Management Discussion

The abandoned fishing gear contributed to more than half of Korea’s marine debris. Realizing the issue, the Democratic Party of Korea held a forum to discuss the main contents of the current fishing gear management policy and the improvement tasks to solve the problem. There was a need for continuous efforts to lead fishermen to recognize the problem and participate in it. Since there were practical difficulties in addressing overuse issue, it was suggested that the management should be strengthened while creating a way for fishermen to participate. In particular, it was proposed to ensure clean-up of the fishing grounds and rest time through the total recovery of fishing gear during the subject-species taboo period, and to realize systematic management. Since it took a long time to improve the management of abandoned fishing gear and it was difficult to persuade stakeholders, it was suggested that it is necessary to lead the fishermen to participate in the improved policy based on the consensus of the fishermen on the seriousness of the problem. The current amendment to the Fisheries Act submitted to the National Assembly might not solve all the problems of abandoned fishing gear, but it was essential because it could be a starting point for improving the domestic fishing gear management system.


Our Sea of East Asia Network (OSEAN) (n. d.), 위성곤의원·환경운동연합 ‘어구 관리 토론회’ 참석 (Participated in ‘Fishing Gear Management Discussion). (accessed 19 September 2022).

The First National Marine Litter Management Plan (2009 – 2013)

  • The allocated budget for this plan was USD 240 million (Cho, 2018)
  • This plan aimed to prevent the flow of litter into the environment, increase public and international coordination and collaboration, improve collection and disposal facilities via the investment in treatment centers and floating debris containment books, and increase management efficiency.
  • Unfortunately, the First National Marine Litter Management Plan failed to reach government coordination, allocate sufficient funds to relevant agencies and marine litter projects, reduce the output of plastic, and utilizing regulatory policy instruments (i.e., EPR).

The Second National Marine Litter Management Plan (2014 – 2018)

  • The allocated budget for the second management plan was USD 330 million (Cho, 2018)
  • It aimed to expand marine debris removal projects and facilities, improve marine litter management centers, increase the management of marine litter sources, and establish education programs to increase awareness.
  • This plan failed to manage land-based sources, establish strict regulatory preventative policies, and publish data on marine litter collection and disposal.

The Third National Marine Litter Management Plan (2019 – 2023)

  • The allocated budget for the third management plan was USD 880 million
  • This plan is responsible to increases focus on land-based, ocean-based, and foreign-based sources, improve marine litter transportation services, expand disposal and recycling facilities, increase public awareness, and strengthen management.
  • Unlike the former two management plans, the issues of this plan have not been evaluated since it is still in action.

The Third River and Estuary Litter Management Plan (2021 – 2025)

  • Drafted and enacted by the Ministry of the Environment in December 2020, this plan created and enforced a legal basis for collecting and disposing of marine litter in the riverine and estuarine environments. It places partial responsibility for collecting marine litter from land-based and nearby-coastal sources. It promotes investment in integrated technological and management solutions. This plan presses for role-sharing mechanisms between the local government, relevant national agencies, and local communities and organizations. The plan creates clear definitions of management responsibilities and advances budget management mechanisms.

The First Framework on Marine Litter Management (2021 – 2030)

  • The framework aims to improve the collection and disposal of marine litter, expand facilities to prevent marine litter, invest in a life cycle approach towards marine debris, and increase coordination among relevant stakeholders.
  • It was created following the enactment of the 2020 Marine Litter and Contaminated Marine Sediment Act
  • In more detail, the action plan covers two main concerns: marine litter and marine pollution sediment. For marine litter matter, there are promotion strategies, 16 tasks, and 40 detailed projects that are highlighted in the action plan for the next 10 years (Table 1).

Table 1. Detailed Action Plan for Marine Litter Matter

Promotion Strategies Tasks

Detailed Projects

1.1 Prevention Reinforcement of maritime source management Introduction of fishing gear and buoy deposit system
Reinforcement of fishing gear and Styrofoam buoy management
Reinforcement of guidance for ship-based waste
Reinforcement of onshore source management Reinforcement of land-based waste management before going into oceans
Reduction of land-based waste going into the oceans
Introduction of river basin waste management system
Reinforcement of foreign source management Establishment of joint monitoring and management with neighbouring countries
1.2 Improvement of collection and transportation system Expansion of waste collection Expansion of waste collection in the islands
Reinforcement of collection in vulnerable seas
Expansion of existing collection system (inside the fishing ground)
Expansion of existing collection system (outside the fishing ground)
Reinforcement of disaster waste management and response
Establishment of national park waste collection cooperation system
Promotion of public private partnership and local participation Establishment of public participatory marine waste collection system
Reinforcement of local participation in the collection system
Enforcement of efficient collection system Enforcement of marine waste monitoring system
Development of marine collection technology
1.3 Promotion of treatment and recycling Expansion of infrastructure and management Installation of collection facilities for marine waste
Improvement of marine waste treatment
Creation of foundation for recycling revitalization Application of extended producer responsibility for recycling system
Revitalization of recycled products
Development of recycling and recycling technology
Creation of marine waste recycling economy town
1.4 Reinforcement of management foundation Governance and reinforcement of expertise Establishment and operation of Marine Waste Management Committee
Establishment of Marine Waste and marine Contaminant Sediment Management Center
Operation of institution specializing in marine waste and marine pollution sediment
Establishment of coastal waste collection system
Establishment of smart management foundation Development of beach waste monitoring app
Establishment of real-time artificial intelligence monitoring and response system
Establishment of marine plastic management Investigation of microplastic distribution status
Development of integrated management technology for microplastics in the marine ecosystem
Establishment of marine emission management Optimalization of marine waste management and disposal area
Establishment of marine geological storage basis and management of carbon dioxide
Response to international issues and reinforcement of cooperation Improvement international cooperation and multilateral meetings
Enhancement of cooperation in marine waste management with the Southern countries
Fundraising Improvement of marine environment charge
1.5 Public Awareness Raising Enhancement of public participation Improvement of private organization support
Activation of public opinion surveys and suggestions
Enhancement of personal training Enhancement of customized education
Improvement of public relations and campaign activities

Source: Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, n. d.

Meanwhile, for the marine pollution sediment, there are 5 promotion strategies, 13 tasks, and 24 detailed projects (Table 2).

Table 2. Detailed Action Plan for Marine Pollution Sediment

Promotion Strategies


Detailed Projects

2.1 Prevention of occurrence Establishment of pollution prevention basis Reinforcement of pollutant inflow blocking system
Reinforcement of coastal source management Improvement of measures to reduce inflow of pollutants in ports
Improving measures to reduce the inflow of land-based pollutants in partnership with related organizations
Identification of contamination source and pathway Establishment of pollution source and pathway tracking system
Development of pollution source and pathway tracking technology
Reinforcement of management Improvement of evaluation system Improvement of pollution level evaluation method and, purification, and restoration standards
Improvement of investigation and management Preparation of survey and distribution map as well as priority management
Designation and operation of institution specializing in marine waste and marine pollutant sediment investigation
Reinforcement of environmental management throughout the cycle Reinforcement of environmental management throughout purification and restoration project
Expansion of management Expansion of sea target for purification and restoration
Improvement of measure for purification and restoration
Technology development and market expansion Development of purification technology Development of treatment technologies, such as natural purification, on-site coating
Development of technology for effective use of processed products
Promotion of diversification of purification methods
Development of purification method criteria
Development of manpower and market expansion Support for nurturing professional manpower
Establishment of a treatment plant for coastal use
Operation of verification system technology for registered companies in the purification industry
Support for the use of new purification technology
Awareness raising Operation of the council Establishment of cooperative system for related groups
Reinforcement of education and public relations Reinforcement of coastal environment management education support
Governance improvement Establishment of integrated management foundation Management of marine pollutants by region (local government)
Support for standardization
Installation and operation of marine pollution sediment management center
Funding Improvement of marine environment charge

Source: Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, 2021


Cho, D. (2005), “Challenges to Marine Debris Management in Korea.” Coastal Management 33 (4): 389–409.

Cho, S. Y. (2018), National Marine Litter Management Program of RO Korea: Results on 10 Years of Practice. (accessed 7 September 2019).

Hong, S., Lee J., Jang Y. C., Kim Y.J., Kim H. J., Han D., Hong S.H., Kang D., and Shim W.J. (2013), “Impacts of Marine Debris on Wild Animals in the Coastal Area of Korea.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 66 (1–2): 117–24.

Jang, Y. C., Song, B. J. (2013), A Critical Analysis of the Rationality of South Korea’s Marine Debris Policy. International Journal Policy Study (83-105).

Lee, J., Hong, S., Jang, Y.C., Lee, M.J., Kang, D., and Shim, W.J. (2015), “Finding Solutions for the Styrofoam Buoy Debris Problem through Participatory Workshops.” Marine Policy 51 (January): 182–89.

Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (2021), 제1차 해양폐기물 및 해양오염퇴적물 관리 기본계획 (The National Action Plan on Marine Litter and Contaminated Sediment). (accessed 19 September 2022).

Russi, D. (2016), “ANNEX to Marine Litter: Socio-Economic Study. Case 2: Marine Litter and Fisheries.” IEEP.

Suh, W. (2018), Progress in Addressing Marine Litter in Korea: Recent Policies and Efforts to Protect the Marine Environment from Marine Litter. (accessed 19 September 2022).