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South Korea Packaging Requirement: Control on Rate of Packaging Space, Package Layers, and Re-packaging

Commodities, including food, cosmetics, etc., sold in South Korea shall comply with the requirements of rate of packaging space, number of package layer, and re-packaging limits.

By controlling the excessive packaging and banning the re-packaging of commodities, the Korean authority aims to save resources and protect the environment. To smoothly enter the market, enterprises need to pay attention to South Korea's packaging requirements. Unqualified packaging will face an administrative penalty ranging from 1 to 3 million won.

According to Act on the Promotion of Saving and Recycling of Resources1, one of the most high-profile environmental regulations in South Korea, the authority mainly adopts two schemes to save the resources: (a) regulating the quality and structure of packaging materials and (b) controlling the generation of packing wastes.

After comprehensively looking through the packaging material requirements (click for more about the packaging materials recyclability grade evaluation2), this article focuses on the control of packing wastes generation, also known as the packaging inspection requirement, covering the management of excessive package and re-packaging.

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Products subject to the packaging inspection requirement include food and beverage, cosmetics, detergents, groceries, quasi-drug, clothes, electronics, and composite products. Local government officers can order a manufacturer, importer, or seller to take an inspection of the product's packaging materials, rate of packaging space, and the number of package layers. The inspection should be taken by the specified inspection institutes and the result will be issued to the enterprise later, which is required to be submitted to the government officer.

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If the product fails the inspection, the enterprise will be charged with an administrative penalty according to the violation times:

Administrative Penalty Amount

Violation for the first time

Violation for the second time

Violation for the third time

1,000,000 won (about 791 dollar)

2,000,000 won (about 1,583 dollar)

3,000,000 won (about 2,375 dollar)

Therefore, to get the whole picture of the requirements is essential to pass the inspection and get a qualified result. Below are the detailed interpretations of the compliance issues.

1. Control over Excessive Packaging

(1) Requirements

In order to control the generation of packing wastes, the Korean authority specifies that manufacturers, importers, and sellers shall comply with the standards for packing methods, covering the rate of packaging space and the package layers. 

As per the Attached Table 1 of Standards of Product Packaging Material and Packaging Method3, the detailed standards for different products are as below:

ProductsStandards
Rate of packaging space Number of package layer
Unit ProductFood and BeverageProcessed foodLess than 15%Less than 2 
BeveragesLess than 10%Less than 2 
AlcoholLess than 10% Less than 2 
ConfectioneriesLess than 20% (For decoration cake: less than  35%)Less than 2 
Health functional food Less than 15% Less than 2 
CosmeticsCleansing products for body and hairLess than 15% Less than 2 
Other products (including flavoring agent)Less than 10% (Except perfume)Less than 2 
DetergentsDetergentsLess than 15% Less than 2 
GroceriesToys and dollsLess than 35% Less than 2 
StationeriesLess than 30%Less than 2 
Personal goods
 (Applicable to wallet and belts)
Less than 30%Less than 2 
Quasi-DrugsQuasi-DrugsLess than 20%Less than 2 
ClothesDress shirts, underclothingLess than 10% 1
ElectronicsCar charger, cable, earphone and headset, mouse, Bluetooth speaker
(Applicable to portable products less than 300  grams)
Less than 35%Less than 2 
Composite productPrimary food, processed food, beverage, alcohol, confectionery, health functional food, cosmetics, detergents, toys and dolls, stationeries, personal goods, quasi-drugs, dress shirts and underclothingLess than 25% (For composite products with a saucer made of composite resin, PVC, or synthetic textiles, and composite products with cushioning materials: less than 20%)  Less than 2 


(2) Terminology Explanation

Unit Product and Composite product

The "unit product" refers to the minimum sales unit with over one package layer. The “composite product” means at least two minimum sales units are packaged together in one sales package. The composite product contains at least two unit products.  

cosmetic-unit-product.jpg

(Examples of unit product and composite product, picture source: KECO)

For the composite product, each unit product contained in the composite product should comply with the requirements of the rate of packaging space and the number of package layers. The unit product’s rate of packaging space and package layer is excluded in the calculation of the composite product’s space rate and package layer numbers.   

Rate of Packaging Space

The “rate of packaging space” is the ratio of the “volume of packaging space” to the “packing volume”. It's calculating formula is as show in the below table. 

To clearly understand what the “rate of a packaging space” is, it’s significant to know what the “volume of a packaging space” and the “packing volume” are.

“Packing volume", also called internal volume, means the volume obtained according to the packaging container's interior length, width, and height. The “volume of a packaging space” is the volume resulting from the “packing volume” subtracted by the product's volume and other necessary space to protect the product. 

foodp2-rate-of-packaging-space.jpgIn simple terms, the “rate of a packaging space” means the ratio of the empty space in the packaging to the packaging’s internal volume. The smaller the ratio is, the less the packaging material wastes.

Number of Package Layer

The number of package layers is how many layers are used for packaging the product. When there is only one layer, the product contents are in direct contact with the packaging, as shown in Example 1 below. When adopting an exterior packaging out of the first packaging layer to further protect the product, the number of the packaging layers is two, as presented in Example 2.

foodp3-products-with-one-packaing-layer-and-two-packaging-layers.jpg(picture source: KECO)


Exemptions of Packaging Layer Calculation

Under the below circumstances, the packaging layer can be excepted from the calculation of the final product’s layer number:

(a) For the cosmetic unit product, the transparent film covered on the secondary packaging to prevent the contents from volatilizing is not counted in the number of a packaging layer.

cosmetic-plastic-film.png(Transparent film on cosmetics)

(b) Products made up of several small items, such as gum, candy, etc., the packaging layer of the gums or candies is exempted from being counted in the layer number of the final product.

foodp4-candies.jpg(Candies and chocolates, picture source: KECO)

(c) The packaging of powder, liquid soup, and other appurtenances of the product is exempted from the layer number calculation.

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(Powder and liquid soup in instant noodles, picture source: KECO)                   (Appurtenances in a toy, picture source: KECO)  

(d) If the packaging layer is not removed when consuming the product, such as tea bag, this kind of packaging layer is not included in the calculation of the packaging layer's number.

foodp7-teabag.jpg(Teabag, picture source: KECO)

2. Banning Re-packaging

According to the Exceptions of Re-packaging Packaged Product4, wrapping a manufactured or imported final product with film or sheet of synthetic resin is deemed as re-packaging a product, which is banned in South Korea.

However, exceptions are designated as well:

  1. Repacking a primary food;

  2. Repacking the product not sold as a whole into one product unit for sale;

  3. Repacking the product as a gift following the consumer’s request;

  4. Other situations recognized by the Minister of Environment including inevitably repacking products for transportation, sanitation, or safety reasons, and cases defined as standard packaging following the requirements.

The authority also explained that products repacked in materials other than film or sheet of synthetic resin such as paper are not deemed a banned re-packaging action.

3. Other Points Worth Attention

(1) For the agricultural and fishery products labeled with "standardized products" following Article 5 (2) of the Agricultural and Fishery Products Quality Control Act5, the products can be exempted from the rate of a packaging space requirement.

(2) Methods of judging a unit product and composite product

Unit Product:

The product’s bar code, transaction details, sales statement, or delivery details could help in judging whether the product is a minimum sales unit, i.e., a unit product.

Composite Product:

Following the definition, the “composite product” means the product packaged with at least two minimum sales units. For example, as MFDS explained, if one cosmetic set contains a toner, a lotion, and a cream product, and each component product is also a minimum sales unit (with barcode, etc.), then the cosmetic set is a composite product. Whereas, if one product contains several items which cannot be sold separately, such as tea bag, candies, etc., as these items are not the minimum sales units, the product is not a composite product, either.

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