Plastic packaging type 4 – PE-LD

Plastic packaging type 4 - PE-LD

Plastics are highly valuable materials that make modern life possible. They keep our goods protected, our food fresh and are vital for the functioning of daily life, whether we are aware of it or not. Plastic packaging has many advantages, including affordable production and ease of recycling and reuse. Plastics need to be recycled properly in order to maximise their economic value and to minimise their environmental impact.

To understand more about plastics, we will shed some light on the different types of polymer, 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 globe by recyclers, waste management companies and plastics manufacturers. 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 fourth polymer used for plastic packaging is low-density polyethylene (PE-LD or LDPE).

What is PE-LD?

PE-LD is a flexible and low-weight form of polyethylene that is used to manufacture a variety of plastic bags, wraps, toys, phone cables and storage tanks. PE-LD is the most commonly recycled polymer in South Africa due to its multiple applications for daily life. Just under 120 000 tonnes of PE-LD were processed and recycled in South African facilities during the 2018 financial year.

Its flexibility and durability make it ideal for packaging and bags that need to be lightweight but reusable. This plastic is in high demand by recyclers as it is used to manufacture bin liners, construction film, furniture covers and many types of plastic bags. The substantial growth in the recycling of PE-LD can be attributed to the fact that barriers to entry are fairly low and a well-established collection network exists. 

Benefits of PE-LD packaging

PE-LD has numerous unique characteristics that make it a valuable packaging material. It differs from normal polyethylene because it has a lower molecular weight which makes it lighter and more flexible – less dense than conventional polyethylene. All polyethylene polymers have a whitish colour and are semi-crystalline, but PE-LD is more flexible.

It is ideal for manufacturing plastics bags, sheets, films, tubes, sachets and cables. PE-LD recycling has a 100% conversion rate when processing plastic bags into new plastic bags – there is no wastage at all. The flexible packaging market is also the largest consumer of plastic recyclate – 19% of the South African market for recycled plastic is for flexible packaging. This means that PE-LD is a highly sought after material for recyclers and packaging manufacturers. 

PE-LD is non-toxic and non-reactive, so it can be used in the food and beverage industry to shrink-wrap and store produce for consumption. These characteristics and benefits make PE-LD one of the most valuable plastic packaging materials in the world and the number one most recycled polymer in South Africa.

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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