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What do the numbers on plastic products mean?

Have you ever seen the symbols on plastic products that look like a recycling logo with a number inside? These are called the material identification codes. They tell plastic manufacturers and recyclers which polymers are present in the plastic product. These symbols do not have anything to do with the number of times the plastic can be recycled, as is commonly believed.

The coding system is used around the world by recyclers to separate and sort plastics so that they can be processed according to the main polymer present.

The numbers on the identification symbol range from one to seven. These numbers are contained within three chasing arrows, forming a triangle around the number. The acronym of the polymer is also displayed underneath the triangle.

1. PET – Polyethylene terephthalate

The symbol with a 1 is used for PET plastic. PET is one of the most common polymers used for food and beverage packaging. It is used to make carbonated drink bottles, water bottles, plastic jars, punnets, trays, strapping tape and more. PET is widely recycled in South Africa and around the world.  For more info visit www.petco.co.za

2. PE-HD (or HDPE) – High-density polyethylene

The identification code with a 2 is used for PE-HD plastic. This 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 recycled in South Africa. Its strength and durability make it ideal for products that need to withstand wear and tear. For more info on the recycling of PE-HD visit www.polyco.co.za

3. PVC – Polyvinyl chloride

The symbol with a 3 represents PVC – a sturdy and hard plastic polymer. It is used to create irrigation pipes, tamper-proof medicine seals, shrink-wrapping, conduit, toys, plastic gutters and more. PVC is quite difficult to recycle and requires special machinery. Many small-scale recyclers in South Africa cannot process PVC, so plastics manufacturers have started to replace PVC products with PET. For more information visit www.savinyls.co.za

4. PE-LD (or LDPE) – Low-density polyethylene

The identification code with a 4 is used for PE-LD plastics and products such as grocery bags, packets, cling film, bubble wrap and sandwich bags. PE-LD is a flexible polymer that is widely recycled in South Africa. Previously, this type of plastic could jam the sorting machines at recycling facilities, but this is not often the case anymore.  For more info on the recycling of PE-HD visit www.polyco.co.za

5. PP – Polypropylene

The symbol with a 5 depicts PP plastic. This is a temperature-resistant polymer that is used to manufacture ice cream containers, kettles, straws, microwave dishes, garden furniture, bottle caps and takeaway cutlery. PP is also commonly recycled in South Africa.  For more info on the recycling of PP visit www.polyco.co.za

6. PS – Polystyrene

The code with a 6 is used for polystyrene. There are two types of PS – expanded PS and a hardened PS. Expanded PS is the foam-like material used to make packaging fillers and takeaway food containers. The hardened PS is used to manufacture coathangers, bread tags and yoghurt cups. PS is accepted by recycling facilities in South Africa. Visit www.polystyrenesa.co.za for more information

7. Other

The symbol with a 7 is used to denote any other type of plastic polymer. The symbol will display a range of acronyms beneath the triangle, such as ABS, E/VAC, POM, PC, PETG, PA and a combination of these acronyms. Plastics with this code are often made from a mixture of polymers which makes them difficult to recycle, or not recyclable at all.   Many of these plastics are used in plastic timber manufacture where they are combined with wood shavings to produce jungle gyms, walkways which will last for years despite weather conditions, outdoor furniture etc.

In South Africa, materials are only recycled if there is a suitable end-market for the recyclate. These identification codes are used by recyclers to sort the plastics into similar batches for processing.

Download the ALL ABOUT PLASTICS booklet for lots more useful information or visit www.plasticsinfo.co.za

 

All about Plastics – What is 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. ___ 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

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.

How PET packaging is recycled in South Africa

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a common packaging polymer around the world. In South Africa, it is widely used to manufacture beverage bottles, vegetable punnets, yoghurt cups and even clothing. PET is easy to recycle and has many beneficial uses – making it the second-most popular packaging material in the country.

Most of the plastics used for various packaging applications are mechanically recycled in South Africa. These materials are often picked, sorted and washed by hand before being processed. However, PET is different. Owing to the volume of PET recyclable waste in South Africa, many recycling facilities use technology to sort and process this polymer.

PET is recycled using automated technology

Discarded PET packaging is collected by waste management companies and informal waste pickers working at landfills. They source and collect the PET plastic before bailing them into dense packs for transport. These bundles of plastic waste are then taken to recycling facilities where the process begins. The bails are fed onto a production line that first passes under strong magnets to remove any metal contaminants.

Next, the PET plastic is fed to a hot washer that removes sand, dirt and oils. The labels on beverage bottles are also removed in this washer. These labels are collected and sent to another recycling production line. The cleaned PET packaging is then fed along a conveyor and scanned using high-speed optical sensors and infrared cameras to sort the waste. 

These sensors detect the type and colour of the PET waste, sorting it into batches of clear, green, brown and mixed colours. It is necessary to sort the plastic by colour as this results in a recyclate with consistent colours at the end of the process. If brown bottles were mixed with green ones, the batch would come out a dirty olive colour. 

Once sorted by colour, these bails of recyclate are sent to a granulator to be turned into small flakes. These flakes are then washed in three stages to remove any residual contaminants and sticky label fragments. The flakes are sent to a heater, which dries them, before being fed to a high-temperature oven to melt. This melted PET resin is extruded (stretched into long strands), cooled and chopped into small pellets. 

These pellets of plastic are sold to manufacturers, who can then use the recycled PET (rPET) to create new beverage bottles. These rPET fibres are also used to manufacture a variety of products, such as polyester clothing, carpeting, underbody shields for vehicles and recycled PET packaging products.

Other methods of recycling PET packaging

The Coca-Cola Company is trying to find more sustainable ways of recycling its PET bottles. It has started to chemically recycle its plastic bottles. This process breaks the polymer down into its basic molecules, separating the colourants, contaminants and impurities at the same time. The result is a number of near-pure products that can be processed back into PET packaging or used for other applications.

While this chemical recycling process is only being trialled in Europe, it could make its way to South Africa in the near future. Right now, South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – beating Europe by over 15%. PET is one of the easiest plastics to recycle and it can be processed again and again. This has numerous economic and environmental benefits if the plastic waste is disposed of responsibly.

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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.

PET plastic packaging successes

One of the most common plastic packaging polymers is polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This plastic is highly durable and naturally colourless – making it ideal for protective food, beverage and product packaging. It is also easy to recycle and can be turned into numerous recycled products, adding to its popularity across the globe.

South Africa has some of the highest recycling rates in the world – 74 328 tonnes of PET plastic was recycled in 2018, making it the second most recycled polymer in the country. PET is so easily recycled in South Africa that we imported 5136 tonnes from foreign countries last year to boost the local recycling industry.

PET recycling is a successful industry

PET packaging is recycled into plastic fibres that are then sold to suppliers who manufacture various products. This recycled PET (rPET) is used to make plastic vehicle components, clothing, textiles and more packaging materials. Clothing and footwear account for one of the largest market segments for rPET; just under 15% of all rPET is used to manufacture polyester fibres for clothing and shoes.

The South African plastics industry has invested heavily in rPET. Post-consumer PET packaging and beverage bottles are also recycled into new plastic bottles, plastic sheeting and thermoformed punnets for food. rPET is the only recycled material that can be used in food-contact applications because it is 100% non-toxic and will not contaminate food and drinks with chemicals.

PET has a number of beneficial properties

PET is an ideal packaging material because of its unique properties. It is virtually shatterproof, which means that it forms a durable protective coating around food and products. It is also non-reactive and non-toxic, so food and products will not be contaminated by the packaging. 

PET is also very cost-effective to produce and recycle. These properties of the polymer make PET an unbeatable material for consumer product packaging and polyester clothing fibres. It is widely recycled across the globe, but even more so 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.

South African PET recycling rates amongst the highest in the world

The latest recycling statistics have been released by Plastics SA and the results show solid improvement. South Africans can be proud of their recycling efforts so far. The country currently recycles 15% more than most European countries. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles are some of the most recycled products in South Africa. 

South Africa recycled around 519 400 tonnes of plastic in the last year alone, which gives us an input recycling rate of 46.3% for all plastics. Of this volume, 74 328 tonnes were PET beverage bottles. PET recycling has steadily been increasing over the past five years. The waste management and plastics industries expect PET recycling volumes to reach 70% by 2022.

Beverage producers and plastics manufacturers are working with the government and waste management companies to further improve these recycling rates of plastic bottles. The majority of PET bottles collected for recycling comes from landfills around major urban areas. Improved collection and recycling in small towns and remote communities would give the PET recycling statistics an additional boost.

PET recycling rates improve every year

The recycling rates for PET bottles has shown steady improvement over the past few years. In South Africa, in 2018, 63% of all plastic PET bottles produced, were recycled – this figure was 55% in 2016. This puts South Africa slightly ahead of international standards and makes the country one of the world-leaders for recycling.

The improvement in recycling rates can be attributed to a number of factors. Firstly, South African consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of recycling and responsible waste disposal practices. Secondly, more businesses and restaurants are starting to implement recycling initiatives. Household and workplace recycling practices are becoming more commonplace.

Thirdly, the government is slowly updating waste management regulations and frameworks for recyclable waste. For example, the City of Johannesburg implemented mandatory recycling in households in 2018. This legislation ensured proper separation at source of recyclable household waste from organic waste and non-recyclable refuse.

Waste generation also adds to the increase in PET recycling

South Africa and the rest of the continent is producing more waste every year – in fact, experts predict that the volume of waste generated in Africa will double by 2025. This growing volume of refuse also means that there is more to recycle; driving up recyclable waste volumes every year.

The government and industry are making huge investments into post-consumer recycled PET products (called rPET). Most of this rPET is being used to manufacture new beverage bottles. A large portion of rPET is also used to produce plastic sheeting for punnets and trays, used in the food industry and for packaging. PET is the only recycled material that can be used in food-contact applications without the risk of contaminating food and drinks.

South Africa is on the right path when it comes to plastics recycling. The steady improvement in PET recycling statistics is expected to continue in the years to come. “Recyclables are a valuable resource and should be removed from the solid waste stream before reaching landfill,” says Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom. 

“All stakeholders, including producers, manufacturers, brand owners, consumers, waste management companies and recyclers – have to work together to make plastics the material of choice, to manufacture locally, process it efficiently and to manage the end-of-life products in the most efficient manner that will benefit the consumer, the industry and the planet,” concludes Hanekom.

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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.