How PE-HD packaging is recycled in South Africa

Recycled traffic cone made from PE-HD packaging

High-density polyethylene (PE-HD) is a commonly used packaging polymer in South Africa. It is widely used to manufacture milk bottles, plastic crates, drums, irrigation equipment and cosmetic bottles. PE-HD is easy to recycle and has many beneficial uses – making it the third-most-popular packaging material in the country.

Most of the plastics used for packaging applications are mechanically recycled in South Africa. These materials are often picked, sorted and washed by hand before being processed. PE-HD follows a similar process when it is sent to a recycling facility to be turned into recycled plastic granules.

How PE-HD is recycled

Firstly, discarded PE-HD packaging is collected by waste management companies and informal waste pickers working at landfills. They source and collect the plastic before bailing them into bundles for transport. These bundles of PE-HD waste are then taken to recycling facilities where the process begins. 

The PE-HD bundles are undone and the plastic is separated by grade. Due to the many applications and products made using PE-HD, the waste will have various qualities. The plastic waste is cleaned thoroughly to remove any dirt, debris and contaminants. This makes the PE-HD refuse safe for processing and ensures that the recyclate batch is pure. Any contaminants or dirt could spoil the entire batch and ruin the quality of the end product.

The PE-HD waste is then fed onto a conveyor belt where it is sent to various stations in the recycling facility. The first stop is the granulator that shreds the plastic into smaller particles. These particles are sent to a high-temperature oven that melts them into a sort of resin. This PE-HD resin is extruded and cooled before being chopped into small pellets.

These pellets of PE-HD plastic are sold to manufacturers, who can then use them to create new products. PE-HD is commonly used for blow mould processes, so the pellets are melted into a sheet of soft plastic before being injected into a mould and shaped under pressure. Recycled PE-HD is used to manufacture numerous durable products, such as plastic toys, benches and crates.

PE-HD packaging can be reused in the home

This polymer is highly durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear. Consumers should always aim to reuse their PE-HD containers and products before discarding them. Milk bottles can be washed and reused to store water and other liquids. Grocery bags made from PE-HD can be used again and again when visiting the supermarkets. 

Household containers and shampoo bottles can be used to store various products in the home. The strength of this polymer lends itself to a lifetime of reuse, making PE-HD a valuable plastic, especially when it comes to packaging. By reusing these products, consumers can save a lot of money in the long run. If discarding PE-HD is necessary, at least it can be recycled easily and the end products are just as strong and durable.

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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.

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Plastics SA Editor