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Surprising facts about plastics and the environment

It’s undeniable that plastics play a huge part in our daily lives, from the nylon seatbelts we wear in cars to the plastic bags that keep our food fresh. Plastics keep us safe, healthy and benefit our lives in too many ways to count. But did you know that they can also benefit the environment? 

Plastics get a lot of criticism when it comes to litter and pollution, but they can actually help to save the planet – especially when used and disposed of properly and responsibly. They can play a large role in sustainability and helping us to lower our environmental impact. Here are some surprising facts about plastics and the environment.

1. Plastic packaging reduces all types of waste

Plastics are widely used as a packaging material. They are strong, lightweight and durable. They protect our products from damage and our food from spoiling too quickly. In this regard, plastic packaging actually reduces waste by protecting our goods and foods. They allow us to use our products and eat our food; without packaging, these items would simply be discarded before they could be sold.

Numerous life cycle studies have found that plastic packaging actually delivers more food with significantly less waste. They also use less energy and have a lower global warming potential than most of the plastic alternatives currently available. By extending the shelf life of products and foods, plastic packaging can prevent a lot more waste.

2. Plastics lower our environmental impact

Plastics can actually help humans to minimise their environmental impact by reducing waste, energy use and carbon emissions. A recent study found that the environmental cost of using plastics in consumer products is nearly four times less than the cost of using other materials. The study suggests that replacing plastics with alternative materials will be more expensive because plastics allow us to do more with less material.

3. Plastics help to improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions

Some cars on the road today are made up of about 50% plastic components by volume, from interior panels and dashboards to bumpers and engine housings. Plastic is a lightweight material and as we know, lighter cars use less fuel. Plastics help us to minimise our fuel consumption which, in turn, reduces carbon emissions.

A 10% reduction in vehicle weight can improve fuel efficiency by up to 8% over the lifespan of the car. Certain plastic components, such as underbody shields, help to improve the aerodynamics of our cars. This further improves fuel efficiency and lowers greenhouse gas emissions from modern vehicles. 

4. Plastics in the construction sector help to save energy

Plastic building and insulation products help us to save energy by keeping our homes at a comfortable temperature. This minimises the need for air conditioning or heating, both of which consume large amounts of electricity. These building products, such as polystyrene pipe insulation and plastic-based sealants, allow homeowners to reduce their overall energy consumption – saving money and the environment at the same time.

5. Plastic recycling is saving the environment and creating a sustainable economy

South Africa has one of the best recycling industries in the world – last year we recycled 15% more plastic waste than Europe. Recycling infrastructure and initiatives are growing year-on-year, allowing us to reuse more plastic materials than ever and keep them in circulation. 

This benefits the environment as it keeps plastic waste out of landfills. These materials can sometimes be washed into rivers during rainstorms or blown away in the wind. By recycling plastics, we are keeping existing materials in circulation and out of nature. The entire recycling industry also supports around 60 000 South Africans and generated just under R2.3-billion for the national economy last year alone.

These facts all show how plastics can be used to benefit the environment. If used properly and responsibly, plastic products and packaging can lower our environmental impact by reducing waste, carbon emissions and energy usage. They allow us to do more with less material. Plastics should always be disposed of in a recycling bin, never dumped or littered.

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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 1 – PET

Plastic packaging is a valuable part of any product, whether it is food, electronics, household goods or medicine. The packaging keeps the product safe and fresh, ensuring that it remains in perfect condition until opened. The manner in which society disposes of these materials is important; plastic packaging should be recycled wherever possible.

To understand more about plastic packaging, we will shed some light on the different types of plastic, 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 world by recyclers. 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 first polymer used for plastic packaging is polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

What is PET?

PET is one of the most common polymers used for plastic packaging. It is mainly known for its use in the food and beverage industry. PET is used to make carbonated drink bottles, water bottles, plastic jars, vegetable punnets, food trays and strapping tape. It is also used in the textile industry (known as polyester). PET is a strong and durable plastic that can be flexible if stretched thinly. 

PET is widely recycled in South Africa – it has some of the highest recycling rates of any polymer, due to the sheer volume of products and packaging made from PET and its ease of processing. Over 74 300 tonnes of PET were recycled in South Africa during the last financial year and these rates have been steadily increasing for the past five years.

Benefits of PET packaging

PET has numerous important characteristics that make it a valuable plastic. It is a naturally colourless and non-toxic, which means that it is ideal for use in the packaging industry as it allows consumers to see the product contained within and it does not contaminate products. It can also be easily dyed, as some beverage manufacturers do with their green or brown bottles to resemble glass bottles.

PET is impermeable to liquids, which means that it is perfect for storing drinks under pressure. It also has a high strength to weight ratio, making it ideal as a protective packaging material. It will not shatter like glass jars and bottles, so PET is the most common replacement for these fragile packaging materials.

Due to its lightweight nature, PET is highly economical. Less polymer is needed to create the packaging as it is strong. This results in cheaper transport costs and less energy needed for the manufacturing of PET plastic. It is a widely recycled polymer because it can retain most of its strength and flexibility characteristics after being processed. This makes recycled PET (rPET) a readily-available and inexpensive material. These characteristics and benefits make PET one of the most common plastic packaging materials in the world.

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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.

The benefits of plastic packaging

Plastics are highly valuable materials that make modern life possible. They are such a big part of our daily lives that we don’t even know we are using plastic products sometimes, such as the kettle, toothbrush and television remote. They are used everywhere – our cars, supermarkets, banks and even hospitals.

The issue is not plastics, rather the irresponsible way in which they are disposed of – particularly plastic packaging. These materials are typically single-use and they have an important role to play in the economy. Plastic packaging protects our food, drinks and goods from being damaged and rotting. They can protect our health and even save our lives.

Plastic packaging is designed to be durable and tough, so consumers need to throw it away in a recycling bin rather than dumping it on the way home from the shops. Plastic packaging can have many benefits – we just need to dispose of it correctly and ensure that it is properly recycled. Here are a few of the major benefits.

Plastic packaging helps to prevent food waste

Most of the food that we buy from supermarkets comes wrapped in plastic – whether it is our cereal, bread, sugar, vegetables or meat. These protective coatings help to prolong the freshness of our foods by keeping them dry or preventing bacteria from contaminating the produce. Without plastic packaging, our food would spoil within hours.

These materials prevent food waste by keeping the products fresh for longer. Food waste is already a problem in South Africa – we throw away almost one-third of all food before it is even sold! This equates to around 10-million tonnes of food every year. We can’t afford to waste more food by removing the plastic packaging and allowing it to rot before it can be consumed.

Plastics prevent damaged goods

Just as packaging protects food items, it does so for household goods and gadgets. Most of the products we buy are protected by plastic packaging, from books and pens to toothbrushes and sports equipment. These outer coatings act as a shield against scratches and dents that can damage products during transport.

Damaged goods either don’t sell or they have to be discounted, which causes problems for shop owners and suppliers. The plastic packaging acts as a cost-effective way to ensure that a product is delivered in perfect condition. Consumers have become fussy with these issues, demanding lower prices for usable goods with scratches and cosmetic damage. 

Plastics packaging helps to retain value in the economy

The end result of plastic packaging is that it helps to retain value in the economy. Food items and goods that are protected by this packaging are sold at full price, which means that shop owners, suppliers and manufacturers benefit at the end of the day. They earn the value of their goods and are able to provide an income for their staff members. Preventing damage to goods during transport will also help to keep costs low – to the ultimate benefit of the buyer. 

Plastic packaging allows the economy to function properly, securing jobs and minimising losses through damage or contamination. Plastics are highly versatile and useful materials – they just need to be reused and recycled as much as possible. Everyone has a role to play in preventing plastic pollution, not just waste management providers. We have a responsibility to the environment, but also to the economy and society.

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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.