Ministries and Coordination Mechanism

Two ministries are in charge of managing marine debris in the Republic of Korea: the Ministry of Environment, responsible for overseeing management of rivers and estuaries and in charge of preventing waste from entering the sea by collecting and managing waste in collaboration with other stakeholders (Chang, 2017), and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, in charge of promoting maritime safety and security and maritime environment prevention, management, and cooperation; and overseeing marine litter policies and management of sustainable fishery resources (Kim, 2019; World Bank Group and Korea Green Growth Trust Fund, 2019). The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs are also involved in managing marine litter (Kim, 2009).


Chang, J.Y. (2017), Capacity Building for Marine Debris Prevention and Management in the APEC Region: Workshop Report. (accessed 25 November 2019).

Kim, K. (2019), Progress in Addressing Marine Litter in Korea. Unpublished work.

World Bank Group and Korea Green Growth Trust Fund (2019), Knowledge Exchange. (accessed 26 November 2019).

National Laws and Regulation

Korea’s Marine Environment Management Act, amended in June 2015, obliges any person conducting an activity or a business that could degrade the marine environment to take measures to reduce marine pollution (Article 5). If the activity or business ends up polluting the marine environment, the person responsible should restore it to its original condition and pay fines for the damage done (Article 7). It is forbidden for any person to discharge pollutants from ships unless under certain conditions (Article 22). Ship owners are required to have waste storage or disposal facilities for wastes generated onboard (Article 25). Incineration is prohibited on sailing ships except under methods determined by the Ordinance of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (Article 46).  For certain businesses intending to protect the marine environment (through methods such as ocean waste discharge and marine pollution prevention), ocean waste must be collected using specific ships, facilities, and equipment (Article 70). Those businesses should submit a statement on prevention of marine environment pollution to the minister of oceans and fisheries or to the minister of public safety and security (Article 72). Besides having proper waste storage or disposal facilities (Article 25), ship owners must also conduct a marine pollution impact survey, covering areas affected by pollutants (Articles 77 and 78). Lastly, penalties are applied to persons who break regulations (Article 129).

Korea issued the Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling of Resources, last amended in 2015, to preserve the environment by controlling waste production and promoting recycling activities (Article 1). The regulation showcases the basic principle of recycling and consists of three steps: (1) waste must be reused; (2) if it is difficult to do so, waste can be converted into energy; (3) if it is impossible for waste to be converted into energy, then it must be managed to minimise environmental degradation (Article 2–2). Business entities should not provide disposable products for free. These business entities include meal service facilities, those involved in food manufacturing or processing, public baths, superstores, and sports facilities. However, products may be disposed of free of charge in certain cases, such as food purchased from vending machines (Article 10). Administrative fines will be imposed on those who offer or use free disposable products (Article 41).

Apart from regulations targeting the marine environment and disposable products, Korea has also issued the Wastes Control Act, which aims to cut waste production and implement proper waste disposal (Article 1). Every person is responsible for reducing and recycling wastes to keep the environment clean (Article 7). No one may dispose of wastes except in areas intended for waste collection or bury or incinerate wastes except in licensed areas (Article 8). Any person who intends to collect, transport, store, or dispose of wastes should follow regulations set by the presidential decree governing this issue (Article 13). Managers or owners of land or buildings must dispose of household wastes under regulations of the metropolitan autonomous city or special self-governing province. Generators of household wastes should separate wastes that they cannot dispose of and store them separately according to their type, nature, and state (Article 15). Generators of commercial wastes dispose of and minimise them by installing waste minimisation and recycling facilities. Producers should provide waste disposal plans, waste analysis reports, and documents of commission acceptance if waste is commissioned. Waste management businesses that want to collect, transport, dispose of, and treat wastes should submit a waste management plan to the minister of environment (Article 25). Penalties are applied to those who do not follow the regulations (Article 63-68).


Republic of Korea (2015), Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling of Resources. (accessed 3 December 2019).

Republic of Korea (2015), Wastes Control Act. (accessed 5 December 2019).

Republic of Korea (2015). Marine Environment Management Act. (accessed 25 November 2019).

Local Regulations

The city of Incheon has several campaigns and programmes to tackle marine plastic debris.

1. Buy Back Programme

The Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs initiated and has successfully implemented the Buy Back Programme, a purchasing programme under which fishers are obliged to bring back collected wastes (ropes, nets, vinyl, etc.) from the sea. This programme, aimed at increasing the quality of marine environment and recovering the fish population, has resulted in effective and cost-efficient marine litter collection while increasing fishers’ awareness of the environmental impacts of marine litter and increasing their income (NOWPAP MERRAC, 2008)

2. One Beach, One Company

Implemented in Incheon, One Beach, One Company was developed by the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs to engage fishery-related corporations, local organisations, communities, and volunteer groups. Similar to the Buy Back Programme, the campaign aims to raise public awareness of the marine environment. The campaign assigns participating companies to voluntarily collect wastes from beaches, harbours, and ports in the city (NOWPAP MERRAC, 2008).

3. Educational Programme on Marine Pollution

The Incheon Regional Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Office has initiated an educational programme to raise public awareness of marine environment and measures to counter marine pollution. Students and the public visit cleaning ships to see how sea surface collecting devices work (NOWPAP MERRAC, 2008).

4. Coastal Clean-up Campaign

In Incheon, the Coastal Clean-up Campaign is performed on 31 May each year in collaboration with local non-governmental organisations. A similar programme – the International Coastal Clean-up Campaign – is held on the third Saturday of September to raise public awareness of the severe condition of the marine environment.

Since April 2019, Seoul has been reducing waste by fining supermarkets and shops that use single-use plastic bags. Stores that violate the rule are fined up to W3 million. The use of thin-film plastic bags, however, is still allowed for wet items, including fish or meat (KBS World Radio, 2019).


KBS World Radio (2019), Seoul to Fine Stores Violating Plastic Bag Ban from April. (accessed 26 November 2019).

Northwest Pacific Action Plan Marine Environmental Emergency Preparedness and Response Regional Activity Centre (NOWPAP MERRAC) (2008), Marine Litter Management: The Approach of Incheon City, Republic of Korea. (accessed 26 November 2019).

Action Plans and Roadmaps

Republic of Korea has set ambitious steps to tackle marine litter through the 5-year National Marine Litter Management Plan. The first National Marine Litter Management Plan, 2009–2013, had four main objectives: minimising litter that flows into the marine environment, increasing marine litter collection and disposal capacity, advancing public and international collaboration, and increasing marine litter management capacity (Yeon, 2018). The National Marine Litter Management Plan, 2014–2018, extended the first plan and focused on establishing safe and productive seas through four key steps: robust management of sources of marine debris, development of marine debris management infrastructure, enhancement of public-based waste collection project, and encouragement of education (Chang, 2017). By the end of 2018, Korea had established the third National Marine Litter Management Plan, 2019–2023, which has more comprehensive and enhanced policies on marine litter (Suh, 2018). Table 1 shows the plan’s four strategies, each with different programmes.

Table 1. Strategies and Programmes of the Third National Marine Litter Management Plan

Republic of Korea : Action Plans and Roadmaps (Table 1)

Strategy Programme
Prevention of waste generation
  • Improvement of sea-based source management
  • Improvement of land-based source management
  • Improvement of foreign-based source management
Enhancement of collection and transportation system
  • Reduction of blind spot collection
  • Creation of supporting environment to promote local participation
  • Creation of efficient collection system
Acceleration of disposal and recycling
  • Improvement of disposal infrastructure and enhancement of management
  • Establishment of foundation for recycling
Support of foundation and management of public awareness
  • Encouragement of domestic waste foundation
  • Establishment of management of ocean microplastics foundation
  • Increase in public participation
  • Enhancement of customised education
  • Enhancement of international affairs and cooperation response

Source: Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Ministry of Environment, and Korea Coast Guard (2019).


Chang, J.Y. (2017), Capacity Building for Marine Debris Prevention and Management in the APEC Region: Workshop Report. (accessed 25 November 2019).

Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Ministry of Environment, and Korea Coast Guard (2019), The 3rd Marine Debris Management Plan (2019-2023). Unpublished work.

Suh, W. R. (2018), Progress in Addressing Marine Litter in Korea. (accessed 25 November 2019).

Yeon, C. S. (2018), National Marine Litter Management Program of RO Korea: Results on 10 Years of Practice. (accessed 25 November 2019).