Siegfred Aldous Lacerna

Published: April 21, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — Listening to Korean pop (K-pop) is one thing. But being inspired by it to take climate action is another. That is exactly what some Filipino K-pop fans are doing throughout the years, proving that fan communities can be a force for good for the planet.

Last March, various fandoms gathered at a mall in Quezon City to participate in the annual Earth Hour. They turned on their lightsticks during the symbolic lights-off event, symbolizing solidarity for environmental causes.  

Beyond joining the Earth Hour, fan communities have been conducting tree-planting activities to celebrate the birthday of their idols. BTS fans from Soccsksargen did this in 2019 to celebrate J-Hope’s birthday. 

Enhypen fans from the same region in Mindanao continued the tradition for the birthday of member Jay in 2022. 

According to Kpop4Planet, such initiatives by K-pop fans globally have planted nearly 114,000 trees from 2012 to 2022.

In other instances, fan communities like Army Bayanihan have partnered with organizations like Greenpeace Philippines to secure money for environmental initiatives and raise awareness on becoming an Earth warrior. 

These initiatives are made possible by K-pop’s popularity in the Philippines which has soared in recent years. Twitter data from 2021 showed that the country ranked third globally for the most number of K-pop fans. 

This rise is not limited to the Philippines, as evidenced by K-pop’s skyrocketing digital streams and sales. However, this immense popularity has also exposed K-pop’s environmental impact, with tons of plastics used to manufacture physical albums.

Plastic use for K-pop albums

NCT albums with random photocards of EXO and NCT members (Photo by Siegfred Lacerna)

South Korea’s Ministry of Environment reported in 2023 that entertainment companies used 801.5 tons of plastic to produce physical albums, a 14-fold increase from the 55.8 tons of plastic utilized in 2017.

Despite environmental concerns, fans continue to splurge their money to buy K-pop albums. In 2023 alone, Circle Charts, a Korean music record chart, logged sales of 115.1 million physical albums, surpassing the 74.1 million sold in 2022. Groups like Seventeen, Stray Kids, Tomorrow x Together (TXT), NCT Dream, and NewJeans led the sales rankings. 

One of the many reasons for the continuous rise of physical albums sales is fans’ desire to collect rare inclusions such as postcards and photocards. Photocards typically feature behind the scenes photos of K-pop idols taken during album or music video production.

For Nicole, a dedicated fan of Hybe’s BTS, Seventeen, and TXT, physical albums bring more fulfillment than digital copies because these special inclusions are not available online. We have withheld her surname at her request. 

However, Nicole acknowledged the environmental impact, as plastic packaging generates significant waste. 

Korean entertainment companies also employ a strategy of releasing different album versions with varying inclusions like posters and photobooks, or even rarer items in deluxe versions.

Even though album sales are through the roof, a 2022 report by Korea Consumer Agency revealed that only 5.7 percent of K-pop fans actually use the CDs to listen to the music.

Eco-friendly options

For Thea Magueriano, an NCT fan and a certified K-pop stan since sixth grade, finding out that many albums are discarded after fans pull rare inclusions made her reevaluate her purchases. 

“I always make sure that this time, if I’ll be purchasing an album, I should like all or most of the inclusions,” Magueriano said.

As someone who also collects photocards, she is mindful of waste reduction. She only buys photocards when she wants to reward herself and uses long-lasting sleeves to minimize the need to buy replacements often. 

Aaliyah Macaraig, a Seventeen fangirl, recognized that buying physical merchandise produces carbon emissions as the physical copies of albums for instance, are manufactured overseas and must be delivered either by plane or by ship. That is why personally, she’s patronizing sellers who have the option for an eco-friendly packaging. 

For instance, she prefers those who package her parcels with honeycomb papers rather than bubble wraps. However, if plastic packaging is not avoidable, then she reuses it. She’s also taking the extra mile by picking up her orders from the sellers instead of having it delivered to her house. 

“When you add up all these things, it does have an impact on the worsening climate change,” Macaraig said.

KPop4Planet and other environmental groups have been pressuring entertainment companies in the past few years to adopt the “green album option” to lessen plastic waste produced in manufacturing albums. This would allow fans to buy as many albums as they like while receiving only a few physical copies.

However, the entertainment companies, up to this day, have remained mum on the fans’ proposal.