Gov’t to campaign for K-pop industry to go green

Seen is the entrance to the HYBE headquarters in Seoul's Yongsan District, May 10. Yonhap

The government will launch a campaign this month to encourage the K-pop industry to embrace more eco-friendly policies, including minimizing the use of plastic in album packaging, the Ministry of Environment said, Sunday.

The plan comes in response to increasing criticism of the K-pop industry’s use of plastic and vinyl in physical albums, contradicting K-pop agencies’ commitments to sustainable management practices.

However, the effectiveness of the campaign remains uncertain, as it will rely on recommendations rather than enforceable mandates.

The Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, will conduct consulting sessions for members of the Record Label Industry Association of Korea (RLIAK) on government regulations regarding over-packaging. They will also introduce methods to minimize packaging in music album products.

Since Korea currently lacks over-packaging regulations for music albums, the ministry aims to encourage voluntary participation from the entertainment industry in climate advocacy by offering guidelines.

Some 100 million physical albums are sold annually amid the K-pop craze, but there are no government regulations addressing the industry’s marketing strategies, where fans are often encouraged to purchase multiple albums to collect photo cards and other items that come with each purchase.

According to the local music and album sales tracker Circle Chart, physical album sales in the top 400 chart reached 115.2 million by the 50th week of 2023, marking a 49 percent increase from a year ago. This figure is nearly 14 times higher than the sales reported in 2013, which stood at 8.3 million copies.

This trend contrasts with the situation in the United States, home to the world’s largest music market.

According to RLIAK data, physical album sales have been on a continuous decline in the U.S., dropping to 37 million last year from 172.2 million in 2013 and below 73 million in 2003.

According to Kpop4Planet, a digital climate initiative led by global K-pop fans, the marketing strategies of entertainment companies that exploit fan loyalty to maximize profits have led to the mass production of albums and the subsequent creation of plastic waste.

K-pop fans often purchase dozens to hundreds of albums upon their release to boost artists’ sales and increase their chances of winning tickets for fan events, according to the group’s campaigners.

While exact statistics on the resources used in making K-pop albums are unavailable, based on records of waste contribution expenses from entertainment companies, it is estimated that 15 leading manufacturers, including HYBE, SM Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment, sold over 390 tons of plastic packaging in 2022.

However, experts question the effectiveness of the ministry’s plan.

The government campaign will be mere “window dressing” and unlikely to bring about meaningful change in the industry’s attitude toward the climate issue, according to music and culture critic Lim Hee-yun.

Most of the RLIAK members are medium- to small-sized music labels, which rarely produce over-packaged albums and carry out indiscriminate marketing tactics targeting idol fans, Lim explained.

“Instead, Korea needs to build an effective regulation system in the music industry, where the government mandates entertainment companies to 토토 pay environmental charges on certain sizes and quantities of physical albums, for example,” he said, adding that global K-pop fans have urged the industry to go green and take climate actions for years.

According to Kpop4Planet’s 2021 survey, 95.6 percent of respondents said entertainment companies are responsible for the K-pop industry’s climate actions when multiple answers were allowed.

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