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Plastic packaging type 6 – PS

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.

PP plastic packaging successes

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.