Modern life as we know it would not be possible without plastics and plastic packaging. 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. Plastics has many advantages, including cost-effective production and being easy to recycle 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 fifth polymer used for plastic packaging is polypropylene (PP).
What is PP?
PP is a hardy, flexible and versatile polymer that is used to manufacture a variety of moulded products, such as dairy tubs for butter and ice cream, plastic furniture, buckets, car bumpers, fibres and woven cloth. PP is the fourth-most commonly recycled polymer in South Africa due to its various applications in daily life. Just under 62 000 tonnes of PP were recycled in South African facilities during the 2018 financial year.
Polypropylene is a member of a group of plastics known as polyolefins. Structurally, it is similar to polyethylene, the difference being that every other carbon in the backbone chain has a methyl group attached to it. Its durability and flexibility make it the perfect polymer for packaging and woven products. Recycling figures for PP over the past five years have shown steady growth, year-on-year. This can be attributed to the fact that more applications are being developed for PP and that a well-established collection network exists.
Benefits of PP packaging
PP has numerous unique characteristics that make it a valuable packaging material. It is one of the most widely-used plastics in everyday life. PP holds colour well, doesn’t absorb water and is ideal for such robust applications as moulded luggage and storage boxes, woven bags and carpet backings, houseware and tools. Its flexibility also allows plastics manufacturers to make hinged products from PP, such as clip-on lids for plastic containers.
PP is a non-toxic and non-reactive plastic, so it can be used in the food and beverage industry to store goods for consumption. The hollow nature of the fibre gives it excellent water (and sweat) absorption properties in clothing and other woven fabrics. These characteristics and benefits make PP a highly valuable plastic packaging material and one of the most recycled polymers 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.