Asia Minute: Fighting Over Coffee in Korea

Jul 9, 2018

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South Korea is changing the way it sells coffee — at least when you buy it at a coffee shop. Starting next month, if you drink your coffee in a café, you won’t be using a disposable cup. And that’s already stirring some controversy.

A coffee shop in Seoul’s Myeong-dong neighborhood was the scene of a loud dispute last week that got national attention. All because of a cup of coffee.

The Korea Times reports that a customer sitting in the café demanded his coffee be served in a disposable cup.

That will soon be against the law in South Korea. Anyone consuming coffee or tea or hot chocolate or any other warm drink at a café or restaurant will have to use a mug — disposable cups will only be for carry-out.

The country is currently going through a so-called “awareness period” to get people used to the idea. But a recent survey found 80-percent of people don’t want to drink out of mugs — they prefer disposable cups even if they’re sitting in the coffee shop.

That preference has led to a lot of trash production in recent years. The Korea Women’s Environmental Network found the number of disposable cups sold in South Korea rose from 432 million in 2009 to 672 million by 2015 — that’s not just coffee cups, but still...

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Starting next month, fines for misusing disposable cups can be the equivalent of nearly 1,800 U.S. dollars.

Some convenience stores in South Korea are taking a different approach to encourage eco-friendly coffee consumption — bring your own reusable cup, and get a discount.