Despite many claims to the contrary, the shopping bags of most SA retailers are not actually being recycled because of one additive.
In spite of wording on their plastic shopping bags such as “Recycle me – set a trend” (Woolworths), “Reduce, reuse, recycle” (Pick ‘n Pay & Shoprite) and “We love our country, please recycle” (Spar), these bags are not being recycled because of an additive that makes them difficult to recycle. If this is not illegal in terms of advertising standards, it is certainly dishonest.
Checker shopping bags made of 100% no 2 plastic by Tuffy are the current exception. Made from recycled plastic and recyclable they get the thumbs up.
Right now people are dumping 3 x more plastic into the sea by WEIGHT than we are catching fish from the sea. There is a global initiative to stop the production of single use plastic. Start by signing the Avaaz Petition here.
It is clear that in the plastic industry `Producer Responsibility’ simply does not exist or is being held hostage by a market economy that promotes a race to the financial bottom line. To stay in the game the costs of production and of disposal are EXTERNALIZED. Clever economic term – externalized!
Where is `external’ on our small blue lifeboat planet? It is the litter eddies in our towns and cities which make their way to the rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches and the sea. So the billions of single use and non- recyclable plastic all goes AWAY – off the balance sheets of the plastic producers and the wholesalers and retailers. AWAY – a sad euphemism for not taking responsibility. There is no AWAY on our planet. The giant Pacific Plastic Gyre, so big it can be seen from the far away of outer space, is the proof.
Since the packaging industry in combination with its retail clients can’t or is too slow to take responsibility we need to push for global and national legislation. Single use plastic and the linear plastics economy of extract oil, produce polymer, make packaging, use once, discard must be replaced with a circular economy of produce, use, collect and reuse or recycle.
I hear the plastic industry crying that this will cause them increased costs of production, factory closures, job losses and decreased financial revenue? But far louder, I hear the cries of starving turtles with stomachs stuffed with the plastic mistaken for jelly fish? I hear the distress of the fish that nature designed to change sex as they get older, but can’t because they unknowingly absorbed too many micro-particles of plastic containing endocrine disrupters? I hear the choking sounds of seals, sharks and seabirds slowly strangling because they got entangled in floating loops of plastic? All of wildlife is calling ENOUGH!
Why doesn’t industry hear this collective distress? It even drowns the few voices in the packaging and retail industry that are saying enough – while the rest is still in a paradigm of externalizing costs and a belief in a place called away. Recycling would create more employment so this is not about people vs wildlife but about living in a way that all can live.
In South Africa our plastic retail carrier bags are a particularly sad example of a lack of producer responsibility. The typical grocery shopping bags are made from a recyclable polymer No2 PE-HD (High Density Polyethylene). The PE-HD logo is stamped on the bag so that recyclers can identify the plastic. In addition Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Spar and Shoprite all have either a Please Recycle Me logo on their bags or wording with a recycle message. Many of these bags also contain percentages of recycled material. BUT the sad reality is that these bags are not being recycled because of an additive to make the bags cheaper. This additive makes the bags difficult to recycle. This is how industry is externalizing costs – and so brazenly that they even print please recycle me on the packaging.
In theory PE-HD bags are recyclable but in practice they can’t be cost effectively recycled because of a calcium carbonate additive. In the wash and float separation process used to clean and separate recyclable from non recyclable plastic, the PE-HD bags with calcium carbonate sink along with the dirt and non-recyclables. AND industry has known this for long enough to do something about it. CHECKERS is the one retailer that is using pure PE-HD polymer bags made by TUFFY which are made from 100% recyclable plastic and are recyclable after use as well.
A sub- committee with representatives from industry has been set up to `resolve the non- recyclability issue’. To assist them in shifting rapidly to a circular economic model of reuse and recycling and ultimately taking responsibility for their plastic the public need to put pressure on PnP, Woolworths, Shoprite, Spar and the rest. (I do not have information about the recyclability / or not of the MassMart chains or Food Lover’s Market, Mica Hardware, BuCo, AgriMark etc). So email or phone the HQ of the retailers where you buy your household goods and food and insist that they change to recyclable bags. In the meanwhile don’t buy these single use shopping bags. Rather buy cloth or heavy duty reusable bags.
I don’t want to live in a world of depleted wildlife and dominated by plastic – do you?
By Kim Kruyshaar
An industry comment was received from a Plastics SA spokesperson. A working group has been set up of recyclers, retailers and converters (the producers of plastic products and packaging) concerned about the recyclability of plastic.
Its brief is:
- to clarify on what is technically recyclable vs locally recyclable. While all polymers are recyclable they are not always recycled for a range of reasons including dirt levels impacting washability, high levels of additives or fillers, supply stream too small or far apart, lack of end-use market for recycled products.
- to consider optimum levels of filler in various plastic products and determine methods to test for compliance.
- to research technology and equipment to deal with plastics with high levels of fillers.
The Working Group is assisted by an external materials expert and has until the end of June 2017 to finalize their work and report back to the broader industry.
Source: Gaia Green Audits