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Korea to promote eco-friendly albums in K-pop industry

June 16, 2024 - 13:51 By Song Seung-hyun

NCT albums are seen discarded near Myeongdong Station, Seoul in 2021. The poster noted that the albums did not contain any photo cards, which appear to have been removed by the purchaser before discarding the albums. (Screenshot from X)

The South Korean government seeks to encourage the adoption of eco-friendly album production practices in the K-pop industry, amid mounting concerns about excessive album packaging harming the environment.

The Ministry of Environment announced on Sunday that it will offer consulting services to K-pop agencies in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture starting this month.

The initiative includes educating members of the Recording Industry Association of Korea about existing regulations on excessive packaging. These regulations, which currently don't apply to K-pop albums, limit packaging to a single layer and mandate a space utilization ratio in which empty space within the package cannot exceed 50 percent.

However, the Ministry of Environment acknowledged the challenges of applying these regulations to albums.

"Since albums are products sold worldwide, it's difficult to uniformly apply domestic packaging regulations on them,” the ministry official said.

Despite the exemption, the Ministry of Environment hopes to foster voluntary compliance by guiding production companies. Individual consulting services are also available to local entertainment agencies.

While the K-pop craze has driven annual physical album sales past 100 million, there are currently no regulations addressing marketing practices that encourage excessive packaging and bulk purchases.

Sales of physical albums on the Recording Industry Association of Korea's top 400 chart surged by 49 percent last year, according to the association, reaching approximately 115.17 million units compared to 77.12 million units the previous year.

To boost sales, K-pop agencies have been including randomly selected photo cards in elaborate albums often made with non-recyclable packaging. These cards can sometimes increase fans' chances of attending special fan events, leading many to purchase albums in bulk.

"Fans buy albums in bulk due to commercial tactics of entertainment companies exploiting fan loyalty," said Lee Da-yeon, an activist with Kpop4Planet, an organization focused on K-pop's environmental impact.

Given the heavy reliance of entertainment companies on album sales revenue, some even advocate for regulations.

Financial statements reveal that album and digital music sales generated 45 percent of K-pop powerhouse Hybe's revenue last year, and 46 percent of JYP Entertainment's. In the first quarter of this year, SM Entertainment derived 40 percent of its total revenue from album and digital music sales.