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Polystyrene successes in South Africa

Polystyrene (PS) is the sixth most widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is lightweight and durable.  It is most commonly used in the food and restaurant industry. In fact, just over 5500 tonnes of PS was recycled in South Africa last year. Polystyrene is one of the most widely-used polymers for food storage and takeaway containers, 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, PS packaging was the sixth highest polymer in terms of volume processed. Most of the PS plastic waste are fruit and vegetable punnets, meat punnets, takeaway cups and plastic cutlery. These materials are recycled into seedling trays, toys, hair combs and lightweight cement blocks for the building industry.

 

PS recycling is a successful industry

PS waste is a fairly common material processed at South African recyclers because it is readily available due to its popularity in various industries. PS is popular in retail applications, such as clear food containers, as well as in the food and drinks sector. It also has many uses in the construction industry as expanded polystyrene is a perfect insulator and lightweight building material.

 

The end-markets for clear containers and expanded packaging polymers, such as PS, are growing steadily year-on-year. The biggest end-market for recycled PS is plastic furniture, followed by domestic houseware. A small portion of recycled PS is sold to the construction sector, although this is a rapidly-growing end-market for this type of recyclate.

 

PS has a number of beneficial properties

PS is a unique combination of durability, economic viability and environmental performance. It has a low carbon footprint and uses very little energy to manufacture and recycle. One of the main advantages of expanded polystyrene is its resistance to heat, making it ideal for use as coffee cups, food containers and cutlery. PS is non-toxic and non-reactive, which makes it perfect for food contact applications and to prolong the shelf life of edible products.

 

High-impact PS is transparent and durable, which is why it is commonly used for fruit punnets and CD cases. It shows off the product contained within, while also protecting it during transport and sale. This type of PS is also used to make retail coat hangers, laboratory ware, printers and keyboards, as well as computer and television housings.

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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.

A brief history of the major plastic polymers

Plastics are such a vital part of modern life; we have become unaware of how much we rely on them every day. However, many plastic polymers have only been around for a few decades. Life before these innovative materials was very different. They have made modern living simpler and safer, thanks to their durability, affordability and versatility.

The first major discovery of a plastic polymer was made in 1862. Since then, new polymers have been developed and discovered continuously – rapidly increasing from the end of the 1920s. Here is a brief history of each of the major plastic polymers and how they have changed the way in which we live.

Parkesine 

First developed in 1862, Parkesine was the first man-made plastic. It’s inventor, Alexander Parkes, revealed the plant-based polymer at the Great International Exhibition in London. Parkesine is a transparent and mouldable plastic that retains its shape when cooled. It was first marketed as a cheaper alternative to rubber, allowing users to mould and create whatever they needed.

Celluloid

In 1865, John Wesley Hyatt developed a new way to make billiard balls from cellulose nitrate. This material was far cheaper than the traditional ivory balls. Soon afterward, companies began manufacturing numerous products from celluloid, such as bowls and combs, as a cheaper alternative to bone, tortoiseshell and other expensive materials.

Rayon

This modified celluloid polymer was developed in Paris by Louis Marie Hilaire Bernigaut in 1891. He was looking for a way to manufacture a substitute for silk – a polymer that could be extruded into thin, shiny strands and woven together to form a silky fabric. Bernigaut called the polymer rayon because it had a shiny appearance that reflected rays of light.

Bakelite

In 1907, a completely synthetic plastic was developed that retained its shape and form, even under stress and heat. Bakelite became extremely popular in the 1920s when numerous products were manufactured from the polymer. Plastic jewellery, telephones and clocks became popular as people embraced the unique appearance of Bakelite.

Cellophane

Cellophane was invented by a Swiss chemist in 1912 who was looking to create a waterproof tablecloth. Later, in 1927, cellophane was used to wrap sweets and candies which really punted its use in the food industry to new heights. This moisture-resistant polymer kept the sweets fresh for longer as water vapour in the air could not affect the sugary treats within the wrapping.

Vinyl

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl) was developed in the 1920s to replace natural rubber. It quickly became known as one of the most versatile plastics. It is commonly used to make medical tubing, plumbing pipes and construction products. PVC can be both rigid and flexible, which was why it became so popular in a number of industries.

Polyethylene

This widely-used plastic was first developed in the 1930s in the United Kingdom. Polyethylene is the most popular polymer to date and is the mainstay of modern packaging. It is used to create polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage bottles, high-density polyethylene (PE-HD) containers and low-density (PE-LD) shopping bags. 

Polyvinylidene Chloride

Not to be confused with PVC, this polymer was discovered by accident in 1933. It was initially used to protect military and naval equipment from the effects of saltwater at sea due to its ability to cling to other materials and form a protective barrier. Polyvinylidene chloride is also used as a protective film for food packaging and is marketed as “Saran wrap”.

Nylon

This polymer changed the entire textiles and clothing industry. Nylon was developed in 1939, after which DuPont unveiled women’s stockings made from nylon at the World Fair in New York. Nylon quickly became an affordable man-made alternative to silk and cotton, finding particular use in military clothing during World War II.

Polyester

Polyester was first discovered in the 1940s, but only gained significant popularity in the 1950s. DuPont marketed a new fabric under the name “Dacron”, which was simply woven polyester strands. This became the first washable synthetic fabric and the textile industry has never been the same.

Polypropylene

Polypropylene (PP) came about in the 1950s but it began with a legal battle over its true inventors. It is a highly-versatile plastic that is used to manufacture a variety of moulded products, such as dairy tubs for butter and ice cream, plastic furniture, buckets, car bumpers, fibres and woven cloth. It can be used in almost all plastic applications.

Polystyrene foam

Also called expanded polystyrene, this polymer was developed in 1954 by Dow Chemicals. The company introduced the polymer under the brand name “Styrofoam” and was marketed as a lightweight protective packaging product. It is used to make packaging peanuts, takeaway food containers and coffee cups.

These polymers have become so widely used that we don’t even notice the importance of plastics in our daily lives. The innovations that led to the development of some of these products are often underappreciated. Plastics have a vital role to play in modern living, the economy and even the environment.

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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.

PS plastic successes in South Africa

Polystyrene (PS) is the sixth most widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is lightweight and durable – most commonly used in the food and restaurant industry. In fact, just over 5500 tonnes of PS was recycled in South Africa last year. It is one of the most widely-used polymers for food storage and takeaway containers, 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, PS packaging was the sixth-highest polymer in terms of volume processed. Most of the PS plastic waste comes in the form of fruit and vegetable punnets, meat punnets, takeaway cups and plastic cutlery. These materials are recycled into seedling trays, toys, hair combs and lightweight cement blocks for the building industry.

PS plastic recycling is a successful industry

PS waste is a fairly common material processed at South African recyclers because it is readily available due to its popularity in various industries. PS is popular in retail applications, such as clear food containers, as well as in the food and drinks sector. It also has many uses in the construction industry as expanded polystyrene is a perfect insulator and lightweight building material. 

The end-markets for clear containers and expanded packaging polymers, such as PS, are growing steadily year-on-year. The biggest end-market for recycled PS is plastic furniture, followed by domestic houseware. A small portion of recycled PS is sold to the construction sector, although this is a rapidly-growing end-market for this type of recyclate.

PS has a number of beneficial properties

PS is a unique combination of durability, economic viability and environmental performance. It has a low carbon footprint and uses very little energy to manufacture and recycle. One of the main advantages of expanded polystyrene is its resistance to heat, making it ideal for use as coffee cups, food containers and cutlery. PS is non-toxic and non-reactive, which makes it perfect for food contact applications and to prolong the shelf life of edible products. 

High-impact PS is transparent and durable, which is why it is commonly used for fruit punnets and CD cases. It shows off the product contained within, while also protecting it during transport and sale. This type of PS is also used to make retail coat hangers, laboratory ware, printers and keyboards, as well as computer and television housings.

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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 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.

PVC plastic successes in South Africa

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the fifth most-widely recycled polymer in South Africa. This plastic is strong, durable and can come in three forms – rigid, flexible and liquid. PVC is considered to be one of the most versatile thermoplastics and it is recyclable in South Africa. It 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 – just under 21 000 tonnes of PVC plastic was recycled in 2018 alone. Of this volume, most of the PVC plastic came from gumboots, cables, hosepipes, plumbing pipes, conduit and gutters. These materials are mainly recycled into shoe soles, car mats and plastic speed humps.

PVC plastic recycling is a successful industry

PVC recyclate is currently in high demand due to its various applications and low energy requirements. This plastic is inherently flame-resistant and is impermeable to liquids. PVC is cost-effective to manufacture and, because of its versatility, it is an abundant plastic polymer. It is widely used in the construction, irrigation, medical, mining and motoring industry as a result of these properties.

PVC can also be recycled into various rigid, flexible and liquid products, including rubber shoes, flooring, trays, mats, insulation, raincoats and many more. The clothing and footwear industry purchases the majority portion of PVC recyclate, followed by the construction and agriculture sectors. This polymer has many uses as a recycled material in various industries in South Africa.

PVC has a number of beneficial properties

PVC is a popular plastic material because of its advantageous properties. During the manufacturing process, chlorine is obtained from ordinary salt and is chemically combined with ethylene, which is derived from coal in South Africa. PVC is always compounded with additives to give it a range of properties, such as rigidity, flexibility, fire resistance and liquidity. 

PVC has excellent resistance to wear and tear, making it ideal for products that need to withstand hard usage over many years. It is lightweight, cost-effective and requires little energy to manufacture. PVC is highly valuable in this regard as it supports economic development and the environment, unlike many plastic alternatives. These properties make PVC a popular plastic polymer. It is widely recycled in South Africa thanks to our strong and resilient recycling industry. For more information on South Africa’s vinyls industry, visit SAVinyls.co.za

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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 3 – PVC

Plastics are highly-valuable materials that make modern life possible. These materials play vital roles in all aspects of life and are very beneficial to a number of industries. Plastic packaging is vital in the food, product manufacturing, medical, agricultural and financial sectors, to name a few. However, 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 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 third polymer used for plastics is polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

What is PVC?

PVC is one of the most popular and oldest thermoplastic polymers in the world. It was discovered twice in the 1800s; first by Henry Regnault in 1838 and again by Eugen Baumann in 1872. PVC was first sold commercially by BFGoodrich in the 1920s. Most other polymers were only discovered in the 1940s and 1950s. 

There are three forms of PVC; rigid, flexible and liquid. The rigid and flexible variants are by far the most common form, having various applications in a number of industries. Rigid PVC is most commonly used in the irrigation and construction sectors, whereas flexible PVC is widely used in the medical and clothing industries.

Rigid PVC is used to manufacture irrigation pipes, conduit, gutters, pharmaceutical bottles, and fridge magnets. Flexible PVC is used to produce drip bags, electrical insulation, vehicle dashboard skins, gumboots, safety gloves, garden hoses and packaging films. The polymer is highly durable and cost-efficient to produce, requiring minimal amounts of energy.

Benefits of PVC

PVC has numerous unique characteristics that make it a valuable packaging and plastic material. It is highly resistant to environmental degradation, including wear and tear, chemicals and alkaline substances. It is cheap to produce and requires little energy in the process, making it an economically-beneficial polymer.

PVC has a high density and good tensile strength, especially the rigid form. This makes it a popular polymer for the construction and irrigation sectors, where the plastic needs to be able to withstand impacts and hard use. Its high resistance to chemicals and heat also makes it a valuable polymer. PVC is inherently flame-resistant and impermeable to liquids. 

All PVC pipes manufactured in South Africa have been lead-free since 2006 after local manufacturers belonging to the Southern African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers Association (SAPPMA) voluntarily, but at great cost to the industry, accepted a policy of heavy metal-free stabilizers for the manufacture of PVC pipes based on health and environmental considerations. 

As a member of the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA), SAPPMA is also one of the signatories of the Association’s Product Stewardship Commitment (PSC) a voluntary programme aimed at ensuring that all heavy metal additives (primarily lead) are removed from their workplace environments

These characteristics of PVC make it a versatile and highly useful plastic material. It is easy to recycle and is readily available, making it a valuable polymer for the recycling industry. All PVC plastic should be reused, upcycled or sent to a recycling facility when no longer needed. It should never be sent to landfills or dumped in the environment. For more information, visit SAVinyls.co.za

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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.

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.

Plastic packaging alternatives may be worse for the marine environment

A committee of United Kingdom members of parliament (MPs) has warned that plastic packaging alternatives could be doing more harm to the marine environment than plastics. Compostable and biodegradable plastics could be adding to global marine pollution because they do not always break down as intended.

The use of these plastic alternatives is growing rapidly around the world, but there is a worldwide shortage of infrastructure to correctly process these waste items. Experts also argue that the lack of consumer understanding about compostable and biodegradable plastics actually increases the likelihood of littering and illegal dumping.

Most compostable packaging waste needs to be sent to an industrial composting facility in order to properly decompose. Being left out in the environment will not work. The same goes for biodegradable plastics – they need to be sent to a certified facility in order to break down as intended. The MPs state that there are not enough of these facilities around the world.

Environmental NGOs weigh-in

These concerns held by British lawmakers are also shared by environmental non-government organisations (NGOs) in many regions across the globe. They agree that the rapid introduction of so-called biodegradable plastic alternatives may have actually increased marine pollution. “If a biodegradable cup gets into the sea, it could pose just as much of a problem to marine life as a conventional plastic cup,” says Environmental Investigation Agency ocean campaigner Juliet Phillips.

Environmental think tank, Green Alliance, also says that there is evidence to prove that the term ‘biodegradable’ makes consumers think that it’s alright to discard these materials into the environment. This inadvertently encourages pollution on land and at sea. These materials also do not decompose the same way in the environment as they did under controlled circumstances in a laboratory during development.

Governments concerned about plastic alternatives

“In the backlash against plastic, other materials are being increasingly used as substitutes in food and drink packaging. We are concerned that such actions are being taken without proper consideration of wider environmental consequences, such as higher carbon emissions. Compostable plastics have been introduced without the right infrastructure or consumer understanding to manage compostable waste,” says United Kingdom chair of the Commons select committee Neil Parish.

“The drive to introduce bioplastics, biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics is being done with limited emphasis on explaining the purpose of these materials to the public or consideration of whether they are in fact better from an environmental perspective than the plastic packaging they replace,” explains UK-based independent environmental charity, Keep Britain Tidy.

South Africa in the same boat

Although these opinions are being voiced by UK-based experts, they hold true for biodegradable and plastic alternatives around the world. South Africa is also seeing a rapid increase in the use of compostable and biodegradable plastics. Many supermarkets, coffee shops and restaurants are already providing South Africans with biodegradable and compostable alternatives.

These materials are also not always suitable for recycling. South Africa has a thriving recycling industry and many of the plastic materials produced in the country end up being recycled into new products over and over again. In a country like ours, it sometimes makes more sense to recycle traditional plastic packaging and products than to push for so-called biodegradable and compost alternatives.

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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.

Why medical plastic packaging is so important

Doctors, nurses, hospital patients and lab technicians can be exposed to deadly viruses and bacteria on a daily basis. One of the ways to protect them from harm is through medical plastic packaging. Plastic is an ideal material to seal off sterile equipment and prevent contamination. 

Plastics have a vital role to play in the healthcare industry; not only are they used to manufacture medical equipment, but they are also used to protect and seal needles and other apparatus to prevent the spread of diseases and bacteria. All of the single-use medical supplies found in hospitals and clinics are packaged in plastic or paper. 

Plastic packaging also allows these medical items to be transported safely and easily. Examples of medical plastic packaging include diagnostic device packaging, blister packs, intravenous (IV) bags and tubing, prescription bottles, serum vials and medicine dispensers. Most of these products and packaging materials are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as it is a strong and durable plastic.

Medical plastic packaging undergoes rigorous testing

Before any medical plastic packaging can be sold, it must first undergo numerous tests to ensure safety and suitability for its intended use. These tests usually include physicochemical tests, biological reactivity tests and tests for extractables. They aim to determine whether the plastics are safe for use on patients with weakened immune systems. 

Some of these plastics will also undergo biocompatibility tests to check whether they are possible irritants or could lead to cytotoxicity. All medical equipment needs to be sterile and non-reactive for humans, including the plastic packaging. This ensures that the packaging is compliant with all international health standards and guidelines before being used in the real world.

Is medical plastic packaging recycled?

Most medical equipment is incinerated once it has served its purpose. By burning this waste at extremely high temperatures, it ensures that no bacteria or viruses survive and spread. However, some of the plastic packaging used to protect unused medical equipment can still be recycled – only if these plastics are sterile and have not been exposed to bacteria, blood or tissue.

There are strict guidelines for recycling medical plastic packaging. Each hospital can outline its own recycling strategy but they also need to ensure that the plastic waste is not contaminated in any way. If the plastic has been exposed to sick patients or any form of bacteria, it will need to be incinerated with the rest of the hospital waste.

Medical plastics and the packaging materials used to protect this equipment have a vital role to play in the healthcare sector. Plastics are non-reactive and sterile materials; they protect medical apparatus during transport and prevent equipment from becoming contaminated. These plastics are vital for the daily functioning of hospitals and have saved countless lives.

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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.

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