Posts

All About Plastics: What is PE-LD?

Plastics are highly valuable materials that make modern life possible. Plastic packaging has many advantages, including affordable production and ease of recycling and reuse. Plastics need to be recycled properly in order to maximise their economic value and to minimise their environmental impact.

Find out more about the various polymers, their benefits and their recyclability properties, including what products can be made from recycled plastic. The material identification codes are numerical symbols from one to seven that are used to identify the types 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 fourth polymer used for plastic packaging is low-density polyethylene (PE-LD or LDPE).

What is PE-LD?

PE-LD is a flexible and low-weight form of polyethylene that is used to manufacture a variety of plastic bags, wraps, toys, phone cables and storage tanks. PE-LD is the most commonly recycled polymer in South Africa due to its multiple applications for daily life. Just under 120 000 tonnes of PE-LD were processed and recycled in South African facilities during the 2018 financial year.

Its flexibility and durability make it ideal for packaging and bags that need to be lightweight but reusable. This plastic is in high demand by recyclers as it is used to manufacture bin liners, construction film, furniture covers and many types of plastic bags. The substantial growth in the recycling of PE-LD can be attributed to the fact that barriers to entry are fairly low and a well-established collection network exists.

Benefits of PE-LD packaging

PE-LD has numerous unique characteristics that make it a valuable packaging material. It differs from normal polyethylene because it has a lower molecular weight which makes it lighter and more flexible – less dense than conventional polyethylene. All polyethylene polymers have a whitish colour and are semi-crystalline, but PE-LD is more flexible.

It is ideal for manufacturing plastics bags, sheets, films, tubes, sachets and cables. PE-LD recycling has a 100% conversion rate when processing plastic bags into new plastic bags – there is no wastage at all. The flexible packaging market is also the largest consumer of plastic recyclate – 19% of the South African market for recycled plastic is for flexible packaging. This means that PE-LD is a highly sought after material for recyclers and packaging manufacturers.

PE-LD is non-toxic and non-reactive, so it can be used in the food and beverage industry to shrink-wrap and store produce for consumption. These characteristics and benefits make PE-LD one of the most valuable plastic packaging materials in the world and the number one most recycled polymer in South Africa.

How PE-LD packaging is recycled in South Africa

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.

___

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-LD plastic successes in South Africa

Low-density polyethylene (PE-LD) is the single most-widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is flexible, durable and highly sought after by recyclers – in fact, just under 120 000 tonnes of PE-LD were recycled last year alone. PE-LD 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, flexible PE-LD packaging made up the highest volume of recyclate. Most of the PE-LD plastic waste comes in the form of shopping bags, bin liners and plastic wraps. These materials are recycled into flexible packaging films, plastic sheeting, furniture covers and flexible irrigation pipes.

PE-LD recycling is a successful industry

PE-LD recyclate is processed in such high volumes by South African recyclers because it is so readily available. Every bin liner, shopping bag and plastic sheet that is sent to a landfill or recycling facility is processed with a 100% conversion rate. This means that there is no wastage or byproducts from the recycling of plastic bags.

PE-LD is cost-effective to manufacture and, because of its range of useful applications, it is an abundant plastic polymer. Recycled PE-LD is used in the retail, construction, agricultural and household industries. It can also be recycled into flexible buckets and dustbins that can be used in any industry imaginable. The flexible packaging industry purchases the majority of recycled PE-LD – nearly 20% of recyclate, followed by the construction and agriculture sectors. 

PE-LD plastic has a number of beneficial properties

PE-LD is a popular plastic and packaging material because of its advantageous properties. Low-density polyethylene is incredibly lightweight but also very durable. This makes it perfectly suited to grocery bag and bin liner applications where heavy goods may need to be contained and carried.

PE-LD has excellent moisture and chemical resistance. It is non-toxic and can be used in food-contact applications as well, such as cling films and vacuum packing. However, one of the main advantages of PE-LD is that it is incredibly cheap to produce and purchase. This is why the polymer is such a popular choice and has so many applications in modern life. These properties make PE-LD the most widely recycled plastic 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.


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