Plastic packaging is a valuable part of any product, whether it is food, electronics, household goods or medicine. The packaging keeps the product safe and fresh, ensuring that it remains in perfect condition until opened. The manner in which society disposes of these materials is important; plastic packaging should be recycled wherever possible.
To understand more about plastic packaging, we will shed some light on the different types of plastic, their benefits and their recyclability properties, including what products can be made from recycled plastic. We will go according to the material identification codes found on plastics. These are numerical symbols from one to seven that are used to identify the type of plastic.
This coding system is used around the world by recyclers. It enables them to separate and sort plastics so that they can be processed according to the main polymer present. All plastic packaging should display these material identification codes. The first polymer used for plastic packaging is polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
What is PET?
PET is one of the most common polymers used for plastic packaging. It is mainly known for its use in the food and beverage industry. PET is used to make carbonated drink bottles, water bottles, plastic jars, vegetable punnets, food trays and strapping tape. It is also used in the textile industry (known as polyester). PET is a strong and durable plastic that can be flexible if stretched thinly.
PET is widely recycled in South Africa – it has some of the highest recycling rates of any polymer, due to the sheer volume of products and packaging made from PET and its ease of processing. Over 74 300 tonnes of PET were recycled in South Africa during the last financial year and these rates have been steadily increasing for the past five years.
Benefits of PET packaging
PET has numerous important characteristics that make it a valuable plastic. It is a naturally colourless and non-toxic, which means that it is ideal for use in the packaging industry as it allows consumers to see the product contained within and it does not contaminate products. It can also be easily dyed, as some beverage manufacturers do with their green or brown bottles to resemble glass bottles.
PET is impermeable to liquids, which means that it is perfect for storing drinks under pressure. It also has a high strength to weight ratio, making it ideal as a protective packaging material. It will not shatter like glass jars and bottles, so PET is the most common replacement for these fragile packaging materials.
Due to its lightweight nature, PET is highly economical. Less polymer is needed to create the packaging as it is strong. This results in cheaper transport costs and less energy needed for the manufacturing of PET plastic. It is a widely recycled polymer because it can retain most of its strength and flexibility characteristics after being processed. This makes recycled PET (rPET) a readily-available and inexpensive material. These characteristics and benefits make PET one of the most common plastic packaging materials in the world.
Plastics SA represents all sectors of the South African plastics industry. Together with our associations, we play an active role in the growth and development of the industry and strive to address plastics related issues, influence role-players and make plastics the material of choice.
Plastics SA has been mandated to ensure a vibrant and sustainable plastics industry in South Africa. The plastics sector is uniquely placed to meet the needs of a sustainable society and to deliver solutions to many challenges such as recycling, climate change, water scarcity, resource usage and energy recovery.