When “for here or to go” has legal consequences…

When you visit South Korea, be prepared to meet coffee place staff being very insisting on getting an answer to the question “for here or to go.”

And that has not just a customer service reasoning behind it. South Korean law tries to limit the number of wasted cups.

For here or to go? Korean Style.

When arriving in Seoul, I needed a cup of coffee, urgently. Korean Air had taken good care of us, but their coffee is nowhere near what you can expect from a barista. So we went to the first store at the airport and ordered our coffee. When the barista asked us if we would drink our coffee in the store, we didn’t realize this question isn’t just asked to serve us better.

A plastic cup in South Korea is more than a choice we make at the counter. It’s part of a pretty effective law.

Sign posted in South Korea to announce the ban on wasted cups in a coffee shop
A sign in The Coffee Bean and Tea Leave, in Seoul, South Korea announcing the fines for using a throw-away cup in the store.

We saw a sign in the store, in Korean, showing a plastic cup with an illegal sign. I did not understand the text but the image intrigued me, so I took a picture.

We saw a sign in the store, in Korean. It displayed a plastic cup being forbidden. I did not understand the text, but the image intrigued me, so I took a picture.

I translated it. The sign said that businesses serving a disposable cup for customers having that drink in the store would be fined.

I usually use a reusable cup for my daily coffee. So I liked the idea of making sure vendors were ‘helped’ to serve reusable cups. It doesn’t make sense to serve single-use plastic to customers who drink their coffee in the store.

You have to go!

After ordering a Starbucks cup in the next days, we decided to get a to-go mug, as we had plans to visit places, and we had left our own cups in the hotel. (I know!)

On our way out, however, we meet a Korean lady who starts to give us tons of advice on Busan, our next travel destination in South Korea. So we sit down with here, listening to the tips she’d like to share.

After a few minutes, one of the friendly baristas comes to our table and tells us we have to go since we can’t sit in the store with a to-go-cup.

Not difficult, not inconvenient, great results

Most people who know me, know I’m battling single-use plastic where I can. So making a law that motivates people to reduce single-use items can get my sympathy. Despite my deep hatred for laws limiting our freedoms. We can’t accept beautiful places being ‘trashed’. Eliminating the plastic cup in South Korea is a start.

Next: the minds, and not just the law. Yes, that’s you Starbucks! And you Korean Air!

Does Starbucks really thinks a banana packed in plastic makes sense? What possibly would be your reasoning to pay for plastic packaging for a banana? Have you not understood that these laws are about avoiding just these plastic waste-items? That showing you care would actually have you question not just the choices on cups, but on other items as well? Corporate responsibility shows you care, not just how you comply with the laws.

Both Starbucks in Seoul as Korean Air on Incheon Airport (Seoul – ICN), believe bananas must be individually wrapped in single-use plastic. A ban for the plastic cup in South Korea should be the start of a thinking process, not the maximum one can do.

As if nature hasn’t supplied us with great protection for any banana. There is still a way to go to make people understand there is no excuse for single use!

Bananas wrapped in plasctic are found in Starbucks stores and Korean Air lounge in Seoul, South Korea.

As “u/lDeath_Wlshl” said on Reddit: if we have to show human stupidity in just one image, a banana wrapped in a single-use plastic container comes close.