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How PE-HD packaging is recycled in South Africa

High-density polyethylene (PE-HD) is a commonly used packaging polymer in South Africa. It is widely used to manufacture milk bottles, plastic crates, drums, irrigation equipment and cosmetic bottles. PE-HD is easy to recycle and has many beneficial uses – making it the third-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-HD follows a similar process when it is sent to a recycling facility to be turned into recycled plastic granules.

How PE-HD is recycled

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

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

The PE-HD waste is then fed onto a conveyor belt where it is sent to various stations in the recycling facility. The first stop is the granulator that shreds the plastic into smaller particles. These particles are sent to a high-temperature oven that melts them into a sort of resin. This PE-HD resin is extruded and cooled before being chopped into small pellets.

These pellets of PE-HD plastic are sold to manufacturers, who can then use them to create new products. PE-HD is commonly used for blow mould processes, so the pellets are melted into a sheet of soft plastic before being injected into a mould and shaped under pressure. Recycled PE-HD is used to manufacture numerous durable products, such as plastic toys, benches and crates.

PE-HD packaging 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 PE-HD containers and products before discarding them. Milk bottles can be washed and reused to store water and other liquids. Grocery bags made from PE-HD can be used again and again when visiting the supermarkets. 

Household containers and shampoo bottles can be used to store various products in the home. The strength of this polymer lends itself to a lifetime of reuse, making PE-HD a valuable plastic, especially when it comes to packaging. By reusing these products, consumers can save a lot of money in the long run. If discarding PE-HD is necessary, at least it can be recycled easily and the end products are just as strong and durable.

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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.

PE-HD plastic packaging successes

High-density polyethylene (PE-HD) is the third most-widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is strong, scratch-resistant and non-toxic, making it ideal for use in the beverage and packaging industry. PE-HD is an abundant material and is quite easy to recycle in South Africa. It can be turned into numerous recycled products, making it a valuable polymer that can be reused again and again.

South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – 63 038 tonnes of PE-HD plastic was recycled in 2018 alone. Of this volume, most of the PE-HD plastic came in the form of milk bottles, plastic crates and plastic drums. These materials are mainly recycled into carrier bags for grocery stores and supermarket chains.

PE-HD plastic recycling is a successful industry

PE-HD recyclate is currently in high demand due to its durability. Although recycled PE-HD is not suitable for food contact applications (like the virgin polymer is), there is a great need for the recyclate in the agricultural industry. The main bulk of PE-HD recyclate is used to manufacture irrigation pipes, feeding troughs, fence poles and weather covers for the farming sector.

PE-HD can also be recycled into various flexible packaging products, including bin liners, recycled grocery bags and wood bags. The mining industry also accounts for a large portion of PE-HD recyclate, followed by the rigid packaging and construction sectors. This polymer has a variety of uses as a recycled material in various industries in South Africa.

PE-HD has a number of beneficial properties

PE-HD is an ideal packaging material because of its unique properties. It is produced from the polymerisation of ethylene at high temperatures, making it dense and robust. It is a highly crystalline polymer with strong bonds between molecules. These properties make PE-HD a dense plastic with high strength, high temperature resistance and excellent chemical resistance.

PE-HD has excellent corrosion and scratch resistance, making it ideal for products that need to withstand wear and tear or contain harsh chemicals. It is a lightweight and non-toxic plastic that lends itself to many applications in the packaging industry and a number of other sectors. These properties make PE-HD a popular plastic polymer. It is widely recycled in South Africa thanks to our strong and resilient recycling industry.

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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 2 – PE-HD

Plastics are valuable materials that make modern life possible, especially plastic packaging. These materials keep our goods protected and our food fresh. Plastic packaging even keeps medical equipment sterilised and safe from contamination. Plastics need to be recycled properly in order to maximise their economic value and to minimise their environmental impact.

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 second polymer used for plastic packaging is high-density polyethylene (PE-HD or HDPE).

What is PE-HD?

PE-HD is a hard and strong form of polyethylene that is used to manufacture milk bottles, fruit juice bottles, plastic drums, buckets, crates, bins and shampoo bottles. PE-HD is widely recycled in South Africa and has some of the highest recycling rates. Its strength and durability make it ideal for products and packaging that need to withstand wear and tear.

PE-HD was the third-most recycled polymer in South Africa during the last financial year. Over 63 000 tonnes of PE-HD were processed in South African recycling facilities in 2018 alone. This plastic is in high demand by recyclers as it is used to manufacture recycled carrier bags for supermarkets and stores around the country. 

Benefits of PE-HD packaging

PE-HD has numerous unique characteristics that make it a valuable packaging material. It differs from normal polyethylene because it has a higher molecular weight which makes it heavier per volume – denser than conventional polyethylene. All polyethylene polymers have a whitish colour and are semi-crystalline, but PE-HD is more rigid and durable.

It is ideal for manufacturing thermoformed plastic moulds, just as milk bottles, buckets and helmets. PE-HD is very resistant to high temperatures; it does not melt easily. This makes it ideal for containers that carry hot liquids, such as kettles and pipelines. This polymer also has extreme cut and wear resistance, making it one of the most durable packaging plastics available.

PE-HD is highly resistant to chemicals, too. It is non-toxic and non-reactive, so it can be used in the food and beverage industry to store produce. This polymer has many uses, from packaging and agriculture to construction and homeware. These characteristics and benefits make PE-HD one of the most valuable 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.