We no longer have any reason to say: “I don’t know which plastics are recyclable!”  Yes

Plastic packaging collected for recycling

Plastic packaging collected for recycling

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.  As the oil price rises so does the cost of the oil derived resins or polymers for plastic. This makes recycling more attractive as recycled plastic pellets can compete with virgin polymers.

So if the oil, as well as increasing water and energy factors are significant, why do we still see so much plastic packaging in landfill? Our wetlands, beaches and parks are also full of plastic bottles and packaging.  Part of the answer is the costly effort of collecting and separating the different types of plastic that are dispersed throughout our homes and businesses and the environment.  The Plastic Packaging industry has introduced a Polymer Code Identity system to make it easier to for us to identify plastics for recycling.  Click on link  Plastic Polymer Code Identification table 2012  to see what plastics are recyclable and are used in which household packaging.

The polymer code numbers are 1 to 7  in a triangular `recycling logo’.  Note that not all these numbers 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 may be  good for job creation – but does threaten the economic sustainability of recycling.

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.

Click on link  Plastic Polymer Code Identification table 2012  to see what plastics are recyclable and are used in which household packaging.

Recyclers commonly accept numbers: 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 plastic. No 3 often used for `cling wrap’ is a difficult to recycle plastic so rather avoid it. While expanded polystyrene, No 6, can be recycled into sought after products.  much post consumer polystyrene packaging (No 6) in the form of  fast food, fresh meat & vegetable trays and foam cups doesn’t get into recycling systems.  The Polystyrene Packaging industry is addressing this slowly. At the same time alternative packaging, to polystyrene, in the form of bio-degradable trays and cups made from plant fibre and sugar cane bagasse (residue from sugar extraction) is becoming more available.  Ask for these alternatives, especially when you buy take-aways.

The `total market value of the packaging sector in South Africa is worth about R67 Billion’ (2018  Packing SA Extended Producer Responsibility Plan) and employs tens of thousands of people.  Reducing the amount of packaging would potentially affect both profit margins and jobs unless industry can up-scale the recycling sector.  In the face of new information about the increasing volume of micro-plastic particles in the environment and now in our food chain and drinking water consumers need to be pro-active about avoiding plastic as much as possible and recycling what we do use.

What you can do:

1  Take your own re-useable shopping bags to the store.

2 Choose products that have minimal packaging or packaging that is recyclable or reusable.

3 Refuse single use plastic such as shopping bags, straws, earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic lids for take-away coffee.

4 Take your own re-useable cutlery, mug and container when you opt for takeaways.

5 Leave excess packaging and non-packaging at the till point. (E.g. foam trays under vacuum packed meat, cardboard toothpaste boxes etc)  If you have time, rather take it to the manager.  If enough of us do these, the retailers will start to confront their suppliers.  Try it.

Kim Kruyshaar May 2012 & updated 2018

Click on link  Plastic Polymer Code Identification table 2012  to see the Table of Plastic/Polymer Identification codes.