PE-LD plastic successes in South Africa

PE-LD plastic shopping bag

Low-density polyethylene (PE-LD) is the single most-widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is flexible, durable and highly sought after by recyclers – in fact, just under 120 000 tonnes of PE-LD were recycled last year alone. PE-LD is one of the most widely used polymers in the world and can be recycled into numerous products, making it a valuable polymer for the economy.

South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – last year we recycled 15% more plastic than Europe. Of this volume, flexible PE-LD packaging made up the highest volume of recyclate. Most of the PE-LD plastic waste comes in the form of shopping bags, bin liners and plastic wraps. These materials are recycled into flexible packaging films, plastic sheeting, furniture covers and flexible irrigation pipes.

PE-LD recycling is a successful industry

PE-LD recyclate is processed in such high volumes by South African recyclers because it is so readily available. Every bin liner, shopping bag and plastic sheet that is sent to a landfill or recycling facility is processed with a 100% conversion rate. This means that there is no wastage or byproducts from the recycling of plastic bags.

PE-LD is cost-effective to manufacture and, because of its range of useful applications, it is an abundant plastic polymer. Recycled PE-LD is used in the retail, construction, agricultural and household industries. It can also be recycled into flexible buckets and dustbins that can be used in any industry imaginable. The flexible packaging industry purchases the majority of recycled PE-LD – nearly 20% of recyclate, followed by the construction and agriculture sectors. 

PE-LD plastic has a number of beneficial properties

PE-LD is a popular plastic and packaging material because of its advantageous properties. Low-density polyethylene is incredibly lightweight but also very durable. This makes it perfectly suited to grocery bag and bin liner applications where heavy goods may need to be contained and carried.

PE-LD has excellent moisture and chemical resistance. It is non-toxic and can be used in food-contact applications as well, such as cling films and vacuum packing. However, one of the main advantages of PE-LD is that it is incredibly cheap to produce and purchase. This is why the polymer is such a popular choice and has so many applications in modern life. These properties make PE-LD the most widely recycled plastic in South Africa.


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