We no longer have any reason to say: “I don’t know which plastics are recyclable!” Yes
much of our packaging is a complex mix of plastics, but now most of the plastic produced in South Africa has a plastic or polymer identity number so that we can identify it.
Plastic products and packaging are oil derivatives. The old joke that we will be `mining’ our waste for recyclable plastic is becoming a reality – but not fast enough. The cost of the oil derived resins for plastic products is increasing, making the recycling of plastic more economically viable. In addition, the cost of and decreasing availability of water in the production process is a significant factor as are the electricity costs.
So if the oil, water and energy factors are so significant, why do we still see so much plastic packaging in landfill? Our wetlands, beaches and parks are also full of plastic bottles. Part of the answer is the effort of collecting and separating the different types of plastic that are dispersed throughout our homes and businesses and the environment. While the Plastic Packaging industry is slow to take real responsibility for collecting recyclable plastic but they have introduced a Plastic Code Identity system to make it easier to for us to identify plastics for recycling. See the table of Plastic/Polymer Identification codes at the end of the article.
The identity code numbers are 1 to 7 in a triangular `recycling logo’. Note that not all are recyclable. Look at the photo of the plastic codes on a milk bottle. The bottle is made of NO 2 recyclable plastic. The plastic sleeve label is NO 4 recyclable plastic. However the lid is NO 7 which is not recyclable. Someone at a recycling plant has to separate all these plastics out for further processing. This is time consuming and costly – which although good for job creation does not make recycling hugely financially attractive. The journey to a sustainable green economy is a long road and a start in terms of plastic recycling has been made.
There is no longer any reason to say: “I don’t know what Plastics are Recyclable!!” Be Cool for the Earth (so that your kids will inherit a Cool Earth) and take a few minutes a day to help save our water, reduce our carbon footprint and use resources efficiently by avoiding plastics that are not recyclable and recycling those that are.
Recyclers commonly accept numbers: 1, 2, 4, 5 and some PS No. 6 plastic. If you know where to take No 3, a difficult to recycle plastic, please share your source with us. Note that expanded polystyrene No 6, can be recycled into sought after products. However the Polystyrene Packaging Industry in South Africa has been slow to take responsibility for their post-consumer packaging. Many polystyrene fast food, fresh meat & vegetable trays and foam cups and No 6 joghurt cups are still being discarded. We need consumer pressure to make recycling of PS Number 6 happen.
The packaging industry in South Africa is worth R39 Billion and 50,000 jobs (2011 figures). Reducing the amount of packaging would affect both profit margins and jobs. These are understandable concerns, but should they be at the cost of the environment, which is ultimately the source of our existence on Earth. It also became clear that in the face of continuing plastic pollution of the environment and the packaging industry’s weak commitment to producer responsibility and post –consumer recycling WE need to take more action.
What I do: I choose products that have minimal packaging or packaging that is recyclable or reusable. I leave excess packaging and packaging that I can’t recycle at the till point. (E.g. foam trays under vacuum packed meat.) If you have time, rather take it to the manager. Remember to take your own shopping bags to the store. If enough of us do these, the retailers will start to confront their suppliers. Try it.
Kim Kruyshaar May 2012
Click on link Plastic Polymer Code Identification table 2012 to see the Table of Plastic/Polymer Identification codes.