At PSEUDO, we aim to amplify the voices of individuals and brands who look to better the world around them through sustainable practices, so when team member AJ prepared to take her yearly sabbatical in Seoul, she looked to find communities and businesses that reflected our mission. Aside from the few Vegan restaurants she already knew, AJ couldn’t identify any organizations or businesses in the local area that were working toward sustainable goals through a cursory search. Then, through a local Facebook Group, AJ came upon a zero-waste event flyer, posted and hosted by an organization called “Wasteupso.” This is how AJ met Kychele, the owner and founder of Wasteupso [“upso” being romanised Korean for “without”]. After attending the event and speaking one-on-one with Kychele, those of us at PSEUDO had the opportunity to learn more about her outlook for becoming a physical community space and source for eco-conscious information in the Seoul community.
AL: AJ Lund
KB: Kychele Boone
AL Hi! Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
KB My name is Kychele Boone and I am a thirty-five year old entrepreneur living in South Korea, originally from the US. Currently I run a zero-waste start-up called Wasteupso that helps individuals, organizations, offices, and companies reduce their waste in a sustainable, economical fashion. We run pop-up shops around the city of Seoul selling foods, home goods and zero-waste products in addition to spreading the word about living plastic-free with as little waste as possible. I’ve lived in Seoul for going on fifteen years now.
AL When was your first introduction to sustainable living?
KB When I moved from the suburbs of Seoul back to the city, I realized just how much junk I was carrying around and how much trash lined the streets of the city. I wanted to see how I could cart around less and live more freely and cheaply. I figured that the best way was to get a nicer apartment in the city without paying an arm and a leg for it. I still worked a bit in the suburbs so I had a bit of a commute throughout the week. This turned me to watching YouTube videos in the morning. Through the videos I saw, I became interested in the tiny house movement and permaculture, then eventually I saw news videos on zero-waste grocery stores and living plastic-free. The apartment we rented is at the top of a mountain with no proper grocery nearby, just convenience stores. I wanted to have a grocery near my house, just like I had in the suburbs, but without all the garbage that came with it since we don’t have the same waste disposal luxuries any longer. That is when Wasteupso was born: a community-based zero-waste shop catering to the needs of the local community.
AL What do sustainable efforts in South Korea currently look like?
KB Sustainable efforts in Korea have been a large part of everyday life for some time, even before the zero-waste and plastic-free trends popped up around the world. Because South Korea is such a small country, they have been working on their waste disposal techniques for quite some time. We have to purchase government issued trash bags to be used for waste disposal as well as specialized bags for food, electronics and appliance waste. As of late, the government has banned plastic grocery bags from produce sections in grocery stores. They are now only allowed for wet items and meat products. But again, grocery bags were not widely used in the country. Most customers use boxes from delivered products to cart away their items. Here in Korea, they were already reusing items to help reduce waste.
But there is still a supreme disconnect that comes from the surge of convenience stores in the country. A while back I read an article discussing their increase and now how there are just too many. But this need comes from the working culture in the country. In essence, Koreans respect hard work. Hard work isn't necessarily working efficiently but working long hours. Grocery stores stay open late, most after 10pm. The chain Emart stays open until midnight in some cases, but people still get off of work after midnight leaving no places for food, hence the need for 24 hour convenience stores. Convenience store food here can be exceptionally good in comparison to say the US. This causes more waste as the "fresh" food needs to stay fresh for longer hours in open refrigerators.
AL How would you describe Wasteupso from its inception to current state?
KB When I first started Wasteupso, it was simply an idea to gather a community of people and discuss how we can improve our lives. Having a store was only an idea and wishful thinking, now it's grown into an online shop, pop-up shop, community activism, zero-waste housing for university students, and B2B/B2C consulting helping individuals and companies reduce their waste.
AL What do you envision for the future of Wasteupso?
KB I envision Wasteupso to be a one-stop shop for people in Korea to reduce their waste. As we are the first in Korea to establish zero-waste housing options affordably, I see us growing our real-estate holdings, building our consulting network, and franchising grocery locations.
AL There are many descriptors and terminology within the sustainability movement (low waste, conscious living, zero waste, green, eco…etc), Which do you identify best with?
KB Yes, there are so many labels within this industry and lifestyle that they can also overlap one another. These labels, I feel, create division in that people feel that they must be perfect in their pursuits. The overlap prevents me from using a single label to describe myself. I am low waste in some areas, I make an effort to be conscious in all areas, I am zero-waste in some areas and green all over. For me, I just try to be aware at all times. Be aware of what I am purchasing, what I feel I need, what I can reuse, etc. So maybe my label is “aware”?
AL Eco capitalism has caught on quickly to the rebellion against single-use items, what are your thoughts on buying green becoming a trend?
KB Eco-capitalism is certainly becoming a trend, especially here in South Korea where everything deemed successful is a trend. I think it becoming a trend has its positives and negatives. Trends have a way of getting recognized and followed by the masses. If everyone is taking care to purchase green then it benefits the planet. However, some see this trend and miss the point. They go out and buy brand new items and trash the perfectly usable items they already have. I feel that as long as this trend is met with the appropriate education and awareness, being a ‘trend’ could make going green a phenomenon.
AL What is your relationship to Social Media as it pertains to climate activism?
KB I am actually a social media late bloomer. I was never really into Facebook and only created Instagram accounts in order to promote my business. However, I must say that social media is an incredible tool to learn and grow in the area of eco-living. Being able to literally witness what is going on around the world, how people are taking action, and the direct results of those actions are inspiring. Instagram has been the best tool for me to learn and grow my business. I am able to find other companies in which to collaborate with, locate vendors, and promote others. I use Instagram to share my efforts and the feedback has been great.
AL If you were a big brand and could use your power to make a difference what would you concentrate on?
KB Cleaning the waterways in my local area and reducing the garbage in my city. Big brands tend to forgo their social responsibility, and when Wasteupso gets to that level of brand recognition and growth, we will continue our efforts and see results because we will have the funding to get it done and the network to best facilitate. Once we have our patent for our products, we will only be sourcing local ingredients, have packaging that seamlessly integrates into the circular economy we have established, and create composting centers/locations at all of our real estate listings.
AL In what ways do you try to make an individual difference in this world?
KB I always feel that you can’t control others as much or as well as you can control yourself. With that said, I just try to be a good human being. That includes considering others and understanding how interdependent we all are. Knowing that I can’t do it all on my own and that the next person’s success or happiness can transfer to or guarantee my own happiness is what helps me push forward through those “tough” moments.
AL How do you feel when you think about the future?
KB I have a lot of feelings about this as this is a bit of a loaded question. Keeping with the theme of the environment, I am super worried about the future. I am constantly worried about how my life will be as I grow old and if there will be a planet for me to live in when I am old. I do, though, feel promise when it comes to the younger generations. There are a lot of very young activists out there that are really doing some amazing things. I hope that I can just do my part to encourage others the way others are encouraging me.
AL Finally, anything you’d like to plug?
KB We will be having a Kickstarter campaign next month to raise money to open a Wasteupso shop front. Follow the Facebook page for updates.