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Starbucks Korea to recall 1.8m giveaway bags containing toxic chemicals

Aug. 11, 2022 - 15:17 By Byun Hye-jin
Promotional image of Starbucks Korea’s summer carry bag (Starbucks Korea)

Starbucks Korea said Thursday it will voluntarily recall some 1.8 million giveaway “summer carry bags” after drawing public ire for handing out items containing cancer-causing chemicals.

After consulting with the state-run Korean Agency for Technology and Standards, the company decided to recall over 1 million bags that were given away and 16,200 bags sold online starting from Aug. 11 to Oct. 11.

Customers who received the bags as giveaway items after purchasing 17 Starbucks drinks, can choose either desk modules, workplace accessories or 30,000 won ($23) gift cards as compensation.

Those who bought the bags via online shopping malls such as, can receive a full refund and beverage coupons.

Customers can either visit a Starbucks and return the bags or ask the company via its mobile app to pick them up.

Starbucks Korea said it had already collected around 36 percent of the bags since July 23, when it first started to offer exchanges of the faulty items for beverage coupons.

“We have decided to launch an official recall to provide a more transparent compensation to consumers by submitting periodic recall status reports to government authorities,” said an official from Starbucks Korea.

The company’s voluntary recall came after a joint investigation of the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards and Korea Consumer Agency, who confirmed that the giveaway items contained formaldehyde, a toxic chemical.

The strong-smelling chemical is used in adhesives, fabrics and building materials and can cause cancer in humans if they are exposed to high levels, studies have shown.

The institutions found a range of 20 milligrams per kilogram to 681 mg per kg of formaldehyde on the outer surface and 26 mg per kg to 212.8 mg per kg on the inner fabric.

Suspicion about the toxic substances flared up in June when multiple online posts claimed that the merchandise had a squidlike odor. Starbucks Korea had reassured customers that the smell would go away in a couple of days.

Adding fuel to the public outrage, an online post made in July by a user claiming to be working for the FITI Testing & Research Institute -- a state-run certification organization for consumer goods -- argued that formaldehyde was detected in the bag.

The company was blasted for its delayed response on the matter and for citing that bags are exempt from following safety guidelines on the level of formaldehyde.

But local media outlet YTN reported on July 27 that Starbucks Korea was aware that the giveaway bags contained a certain level of formaldehyde before the news broke, prompting a government probe. The next day, the company admitted it had already received positive test results for the chemical in early July and apologized to the public.