Plastics SA Editor
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Join the Million Plus recycling initiative

Join the Million Plus recycling initiative

Polyco, a South African not-for-profit organisation that aims to reduce the amount of polyolefin waste in landfills, has launched a new recycling initiative called Million Plus. This recycling revolution encourages South Africans to commit to using plastic responsibly by keeping used packaging out of the environment and landfills. Their main goal is to get South Africans to recycle their packaging waste.

“It is unapologetically an initiative to change the country’s behaviour and get more South Africans recycling their plastic packaging,” reads the initiative’s manifesto. Million Plus aims to get over one million citizens to take the pledge on the website and add their names to the list of other committed recyclers. 

The initiative aims to create a recycling revolution. Each signatory is encouraged to recruit others and spread the word about the importance of recycling. By doing so, recycling will become the norm and a new reality whereby the South African environment is protected from litter and the recycling industry is further supported for the good of the national economy.

What does a Million Plus recycler do?

All committed recyclers should employ the following daily practices and habits:

  1. Recycle all the plastic packaging that you buy, instead of discarding it in a general waste bin.
  2. Encourage friends, family and colleagues to recycle.
  3. Tell Polyco how your recycling is collected (or where you drop off your recycling) so that they can create an accurate database of local recycling companies for the benefit of others.

Recycling can make the difference

South Africa has a well-established recycling industry that provides income for around 60 000 South Africans and helps to keep valuable materials out of the environment and in circulation. Recycling is an easy change to make in the home; simply separating waste into different materials can make a big difference to the environment and the economy.

Every South African can make a difference that has far-reaching benefits. If one million people commit to this cause and start recycling their waste at home, then South Africa will be a cleaner and more sustainable place in which to live. Join the recycling revolution by signing up on the Million Plus website and start spreading the word about the importance of recycling.

Visit millionplusrecyclers.co.za for more information.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

PETCO releases guide to recyclable packaging design

PETCO releases guide to recyclable packaging design

The South African PET Recycling Company (PETCO) has released a guide to recyclable packaging design that will allow plastics manufacturers to produce more recyclable products. These plastic consumables should be designed with reuse and recycling in mind, according to PETCO chief executive officer Cheri Scholtz.

She explains that it is essential for designers, packaging manufacturers and brand owners to embed recyclability into the design process so that plastic products can be successfully reused or easily processed at local recycling facilities. Designing with the environment in mind is a vital part of establishing a circular economy.

“Now, more than ever, companies failing to address consumer demand for environmental performance in product design and development will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the local and global market,” says Scholtz.

Designing plastic products with the environment in mind

One of the best ways to minimise plastic waste is to design for recycling; either by using less packaging, by using more recycled content in plastic products or by improving the recyclability of products such as PET bottles, vegetable punnets and polystyrene trays. This makes plastic products easier to process from the start of their life cycle.

“PET plastic remains a lightweight, cost-effective, fit-for-purpose material. But we must understand and utilise the value of its post-consumer waste as the economic resource it is in building a sustainable circular economy. It’s about approaching sustainability, not as an add-on or something to retrofit, but as a service integral to your product,” explains Scholtz.

The packaging should always be compatible with existing recycling technologies and collection infrastructure. Some plastics cannot be recycled easily. Other plastics are 100% recyclable, such as PET, and so these polymers should be the first choice in product and packaging design.

“Plastic packaging companies, manufacturers of packaging and brand owners are asked to review their current portfolio of PET packaging against PETCO’s design guidelines, highlight any aspects where designs could potentially be improved and implement the changes as soon as the opportunity presents itself,” encourages Scholtz.

PETCO key guidelines for recyclable packaging design

  • Design plastic containers and packaging with the available recycling infrastructure (in South Africa) in mind.
  • Avoid the use of polymers or components that are known to impede the recycling process or reduce the quality of recyclate, such as black pigments.
  • Reduce the number of different plastics used in a product and specify those polymers that can be recycled together or easily separated during the recycling process.
  • Design additional components, such as labels and lids, so that they can be quickly and easily removed and separated during the recycling process.
  • Include recycled materials in the design.
  • Be transparent about the recyclability of the packaging.
  • Try to use plastic in its natural form, without adding colours and dyes.
  • Avoid printing directly onto the plastic product.
  • Avoid using adhesives directly on the body of the packaging or product.
  • Show the material identification code clearly and legibly so that recycling facilities can easily identify the polymer used.
  • Avoid using metal liners in plastic liquid containers.

“When designing a product, considering what happens after its demise will soon become as important as its performance. Good environmental practice requires us to use the least material to do the job required, then to reuse or recycle by recovering material or energy from products at the end of their life,” concludes Scholtz.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Bioplastics are not the same as biodegradable plastics

Bioplastics are not the same as biodegradable plastics

When it comes to plastic alternatives, there are two materials that consumers are likely to encounter; bioplastics and biodegradable plastics. These are separate products that are often confused. People think that bioplastics and biodegradable plastics are one and the same, but in reality, they are not.

Both of these materials are fairly new developments that are growing in popularity around the world, as well as in South Africa. They are both marketed as alternatives to traditional plastics and are used in similar applications. However, that is where the similarities end. The differences between bioplastics and biodegradable plastics are outlined below.

What are these materials made from?

Bioplastics are not just one single material but comprise of a whole family of materials with different properties and applications. “Bioplastics” refers to plastics made from plant or other

biological materials – it does not speak to the biodegradability or compostability of the

Product. Bioplastics are made from corn, sugar cane or starch. They have the same characteristics as oil-based plastics but are made from renewable sources.

Biodegradable plastics, on the other hand, are made from fossil fuels such as oil. In theory, they can be degraded by biological processes. However, many so-called biodegradable plastics do not decompose as intended in the natural environment. Biodegradable plastics are not always bio-based (made from plants) and bioplastics are not always biodegradable.

Why use bioplastics?

The main benefit of bioplastics is that they are made from naturally-occurring and renewable materials. They reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and oils which also helps to lower carbon emissions. Bioplastics can be made from genetically modified plants or from natural feedstock – neither of which are food sources for humans. These resources can be regrown every year, unlike oil and fossil fuels.

Another advantage of bioplastics over biodegradable plastics is that they can be recycled with conventional packaging waste. Bioplastics can be processed at a recycling facility in the same way as regular plastic, whereas biodegradable plastic must be separated from the waste stream and processed separately.

Bioplastics are perfectly suited to mechanical recycling. On the other hand, biodegradable plastics must be sent to an industrial composting facility where they can take up to three months to decompose. Manufacturing bioplastics is a fairly complicated process and quite an energy-intensive operation, but as the technology develops and further tests are completed, we could soon see plastic products being made from green resources.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

How PS packaging is recycled in South Africa

PS packaging is recycled into seed trays

Polystyrene (PS) is a highly popular packaging polymer, not just in South Africa but around the world, too. It is used to manufacture a variety of products, from fruit punnets and supermarket food trays to disposable coffee cups and plastic cutlery. PS is fairly easy to recycle and has many beneficial uses – including the manufacture of seedling trays, picture frames and even lightweight building blocks for the construction industry.

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. PS follows a similar process when it is sent to a recycling facility to be turned into recyclate. The plastic waste is granulated and extruded before being sold back to plastics manufacturers.

How PS packaging is recycled

Firstly, discarded PS packaging is collected by waste management companies and informal waste pickers working at local landfills. They source and collect the waste before baling them for transport. These bales of plastic waste are then taken to recycling facilities where the process begins. 

The plastic bundles are undone and the waste materials are separated by polymer type and grade. Due to the many food contact applications of PS packaging, these materials will have various qualities and degrees of cleanliness. The PS waste is first cleaned to remove any dirt and food contaminants. PS should be scraped clean or rinsed in used dishwashing water. South African polystyrene recyclers that manufacture lightweight bricks and screeds don’t require the materials to be pristine. However, the cleaner the waste, the better.

The PS waste is then shredded into small bits. These particles are then fed into a large heated extruder which melts the plastic under pressure and extrudes it into ingots. These bars of PS polymer are then granulated or cut into pellets and packed for sale to plastics manufacturers. Recycled PS is used to manufacture numerous products, such as clothes hangers, picture frames, cornices, hair combs and plastic rulers.

PS can be reused in the home

This polymer is extremely lightweight and semi-flexible. Consumers should always aim to reuse their PS takeaway containers and sealable fruit punnets. Hamburger clamshells or grape punnets are ideal for storing leftover food in the fridge. Polystyrene cups can also be washed and reused for children’s parties where kids may drop cups on the floor by mistake. Plastic cutlery should always be cleaned and reused as it is ideal for picnics and large outdoor gatherings.

The flexibility, lightweight and non-toxicity of this polymer lends itself to reuse in the home, making PS a highly valuable packaging polymer. By reusing these products, consumers can save a lot of money. If discarding PS is necessary, at least it can be recycled, which benefits the local economy and the environment.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

PS plastic successes in South Africa

PS plastic CD case

Polystyrene (PS) is the sixth most widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is lightweight and durable – most commonly used in the food and restaurant industry. In fact, just over 5500 tonnes of PS was recycled in South Africa last year. It is one of the most widely-used polymers for food storage and takeaway containers, 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, PS packaging was the sixth-highest polymer in terms of volume processed. Most of the PS plastic waste comes in the form of fruit and vegetable punnets, meat punnets, takeaway cups and plastic cutlery. These materials are recycled into seedling trays, toys, hair combs and lightweight cement blocks for the building industry.

PS plastic recycling is a successful industry

PS waste is a fairly common material processed at South African recyclers because it is readily available due to its popularity in various industries. PS is popular in retail applications, such as clear food containers, as well as in the food and drinks sector. It also has many uses in the construction industry as expanded polystyrene is a perfect insulator and lightweight building material. 

The end-markets for clear containers and expanded packaging polymers, such as PS, are growing steadily year-on-year. The biggest end-market for recycled PS is plastic furniture, followed by domestic houseware. A small portion of recycled PS is sold to the construction sector, although this is a rapidly-growing end-market for this type of recyclate.

PS has a number of beneficial properties

PS is a unique combination of durability, economic viability and environmental performance. It has a low carbon footprint and uses very little energy to manufacture and recycle. One of the main advantages of expanded polystyrene is its resistance to heat, making it ideal for use as coffee cups, food containers and cutlery. PS is non-toxic and non-reactive, which makes it perfect for food contact applications and to prolong the shelf life of edible products. 

High-impact PS is transparent and durable, which is why it is commonly used for fruit punnets and CD cases. It shows off the product contained within, while also protecting it during transport and sale. This type of PS is also used to make retail coat hangers, laboratory ware, printers and keyboards, as well as computer and television housings.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastic packaging type 6 – PS

PS takeaway food container

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 economic benefits and ease of recycling or 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 sixth polymer used for plastic packaging is polystyrene (PS).

What is PS?

Polystyrene is a lightweight polymer that comes in two types; high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) and expandable polystyrene (PS-E or EPS). It was first sold commercially in the 1930s as an economic plastic to enhance food hygiene and extend product shelf-lives. PS is commonly used in the food and beverage industry as takeaway containers, vegetable punnets, disposable cutlery and plastic cups. PS is also recycled into lightweight cement blocks for the building industry.

Its lightweight nature makes PS an energy-efficient plastic to produce with a low carbon footprint. This plastic is in high demand by recyclers as it is used to manufacture seedling trays, combs, rulers, picture frames and clothing hangers. It is the sixth-most processed polymer by South African recycling facilities. Due to the well-established waste collection network and the fact that plastic food and drink containers form a large portion of our waste, 5572 tonnes of lightweight polystyrene packaging were recycled in 2018 alone. 

Benefits of PS packaging

PS has numerous unique characteristics that make it a valuable packaging material. The two types of polystyrene have different applications. HIPS is a transparent and semi-flexible plastic that is used to make fruit and vegetable containers (like grape punnets) as well as CD cases. PS-E is a foam-like polymer that is used to make vending cups, meat trays (like boerewors punnets) and cooler boxes.

PS is heat-resistant and acts as a good insulator – hence its widespread use in the food and beverage sectors. It is fairly easy to recycle and can even improve the aeration in landfills if it is not sent to a recycling facility. The furniture and domestic housewares markets are the two largest consumers of PS recyclate.

PS is non-toxic and non-reactive, so it can be used in food and beverage contact applications without affecting the consumer. These characteristics and benefits make PS a highly-valuable plastic packaging material 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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

How PP packaging is recycled in South Africa

Woven PP packaging furniture

Polypropylene (PP) is one of the most widely-recycled packaging polymers in South Africa. It is used to manufacture dairy containers, plastic furniture, homeware and a variety of other semi-flexible products. PP is quite easy to recycle and has many beneficial uses – including the manufacture of fibres for woven products.

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. PP follows a similar process when it is sent to a recycling facility to be turned into recyclate. The plastic pellets can either then be melted into other PP products or extruded into a fibre.

How PP packaging is recycled

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

The plastic bundles are undone and the waste materials are separated by polymer type and grade. Due to the many applications and products made using PP, these materials will have various qualities. The plastic waste is cleaned thoroughly to remove any dirt and contaminants. This makes sure that the PP recyclate batch is pure. Any contaminants or debris could spoil the entire batch and ruin the quality of the end product.

The PP waste is shredded into small bits. These particles are then fed into a large heated extruder which melts the plastic and extrudes it into fibres. These fibres of PP polymer are either sold to textile companies for use in woven products, or they are cut into pellets and bailed for sale to plastics manufacturers. Recycled PP is used to manufacture numerous products, such as garden twine, dustbins, shopping baskets, coathangers, flower pots and outdoor furniture.

PP 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 PP dairy tubs and homeware before discarding them. Ice cream tubs are the perfect storage containers for leftover food. They also make quick and easy water bowls for pets. Similarly, butter tubs can be used to store workshop equipment or any bits and bobs needed around the house.

The flexibility, durability and non-toxicity of this polymer lends itself to reuse in the home, making PP a highly valuable plastic. By reusing these products, consumers can save a lot of money. If discarding PP is necessary, at least it can be easily recycled, which benefits the local economy and the environment.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

PP plastic packaging successes

PP plastic stadium seating

Polypropylene (PP) is the fourth most-widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is durable, versatile and readily available around the world – in fact, just under 62 000 tonnes of PP were recycled last year alone in South Africa. PP 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, PP packaging was the fourth-highest polymer in terms of volume of recyclate. Most of the PP plastic waste comes in the form of dairy containers, sweet wrappers, plastic furniture, houseware and buckets. These materials are recycled into refuse bins, shopping baskets, coathangers, flower pots and storage containers.

PP recycling is a successful industry

PP waste is a common material processed at South African recyclers because it is readily available and one of the most widely-used plastics. PP is popular in consumer applications, as well as industrial uses, making discarded PP waste an abundant material. It can come in the form of plastic products or a fibre twine.

The end-markets for containers and other semi-flexible packaging polymers, such as PP, are growing steadily year-on-year. The biggest end-market for recycled PP is domestic houseware, by far. This is followed by the furniture sector, then the electric industry. Some of the PP recyclate is sold to the rigid packaging and export markets.

PP plastic has a number of beneficial properties

PP fibre is easy to extrude and also has the right balance of toughness and flexibility to make a variety of woven products. The hollow nature of the fibre gives it excellent water (and sweat) absorption properties in clothing and other fabrics. Moulded PP products hold colour well, don’t absorb water and are ideal for robust applications, such as moulded car bumpers, luggage and storage boxes. 

PP has excellent chemical resistance. It is non-toxic and can be used in food-contact applications –  such as ice cream and yoghurt tubs. However, one of the main advantages of PP is that it is incredibly versatile and robust. This is why the polymer is such a popular choice and has so many applications in modern life. These properties make PP one of the most widely recycled plastics 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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Plastic packaging type 5 – PP

PP ice cream container

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 have 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.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

How PE-LD packaging is recycled in South Africa

PE-LD packaging is recycled into phone cables

Low-density polyethylene (PE-LD) is the most widely-recycled packaging polymer in South Africa. It is used to manufacture grocery packets, plastic films, plastic sheets, flexible hoses and cable insulation. PE-LD is fairly easy to recycle and has many beneficial uses – making it the 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-LD follows a similar process when it is sent to a recycling facility to be turned into recyclate. Interestingly, there is a 100% conversion rate for PE-LD, meaning that none of the recyclate is wasted or left behind.

How PE-LD packaging is recycled

Firstly, discarded PE-LD 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 compacted bundles of PE-LD waste are then taken to recycling facilities where the process begins. 

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

The PE-LD waste is then fed into a large shredder that turns the plastic into thin strips. These shreds of plastic sheets are then fed into a second washer and float tank, where grains of sand and dirt sink to the bottom of the water tank. The plastic floats on the surface of the water and is skimmed at the end of the tank. 

The plastic shreds are then dried and fed into a large oven which melts the plastic into a new sheet that is cooled and dried. This sheet of PE-LD polymer is bailed and sold back to plastics manufacturers and packaging producers. Recycled PE-LD is used to manufacture numerous flexible products, such as bin liners, flexible buckets, irrigation hoses and construction sheeting.

PE-LD can be reused in the home

This polymer is highly durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear for its weight. Consumers should always aim to reuse their PE-LD packets and plastic sheets before discarding them. Sandwich bags can be washed and reused, as can Zip Lock bags. Grocery bags made from PE-LD can be used again and again when visiting the supermarkets. 

Contractors and painters can reuse their black plastic sheeting multiple times before throwing it away. The flexibility, lightweight and durability of this polymer lends itself to multiple reuses, making PE-LD a valuable plastic. By reusing these products, consumers can save a lot of money. If discarding PE-LD is necessary, at least it can be recycled, which benefits the local economy and the environment.

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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.

For more news, updates and information on the South African plastics industry, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

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