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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 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.

All About Plastics… What is PE-HD?

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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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.

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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.