Plastics are an integral part of our modern lives – without them, we wouldn’t be able to build our smart phones, our iPads or our cars. Plastic packaging adds to the convenience of our lifestyles because it is light and strong. More than this, plastics have contributed significantly to the global economy, bringing enormous benefits to many sectors, thanks to their low cost, versatility and durability.
Did you know that PET plastic bottles are 100% recyclable when basic design principles are followed and is the most widely recycled plastic in South Africa? In 2017 65% of all plastic bottles were recycled in South Africa. These stats have risen from 55% in 2016, which puts South Africa on par with international standards.
A total of 2.15 billion bottles were collected for recycling in 2017, equating to 5.9 million bottles collected every day, which created 64 000 income opportunities for waste-preneurs in South Africa. Through the recycling of PET bottles, more than 900 000 tonnes of carbon and almost 4 million m3 of landfill space saved to date. We are on-track to achieve our target recycling rate of 70% by 2022, which is a significant impact over a relatively short space of time.
What is PET plastic and why should we recycle it?
PET stands for polyethylene terephthalate and it’s most commonly used to make plastic water bottles. It is a clear, strong and lightweight plastic that can be recycled back into many products. PET forms the basis for synthetic fibres like polyester and is also recognised in the packaging industry as the rigid plastic commonly used as beverage bottles for carbonated soft drinks, bottled water, juice, sports and energy drinks, jars, punnets, tubs and trays for food items, bottles for household, personal care and pharmaceutical products, and sheet and film for general packaging.
More than 2-billion PET plastic bottles were recycled in South Africa in 2017. Since 2005, the plastic bottle recycled tonnage in South Africa has grown by more than 800%. But how exactly do we recycle plastic?
PET plastic bottles are too valuable to be thrown away after you are finished using it. Don’t simply throw away anything made of PET with other rubbish or as litter on the street. If you are not near a recycling bin when you are finished with, for example, your PET bottle, take it home with you to add to your recycling at home.
Look for the number 1 under your PET bottle
Most plastic containers are imprinted with a polymer identification code (PIC) to indicate the type of plastic the container is made from. This code is usually embossed into the plastic underneath the container. This symbol contains a number ranging from 1 to 7. These symbols indicate what type of plastic you are dealing with.
Look for the number-1 symbol under plastic bottles, as these products are made from PET plastic and can be recycled.
For more information on the other types of plastics please visit Plastics SA.
Prepare your plastic
Before putting your PET bottle into your recycle bin, rinse it out with dish washing water and squash the bottles, this will help with transport space. Bottle lids can be kept on as they will be sorted from the PET and will be used to make other products.
Get a separate recycling bin to ensure the plastic you want recycled doesn’t get mixed up with the rest of your general waste that is going to landfill. The most convenient place for your recycling bin is probably your kitchen or outside, as long as the bin has a lid so the recyclables don’t get wet or contaminated further. All recyclables can be placed in one bin.
Get it to the right place
Once you have collected all your PET plastic, take it to the nearest drop-off site or arrange for it to be collected from your home. Once the recyclate arrives at the plant, it will be sorted, crushed and processed into pellets which will then be used to make brand new recycled products.
If you don’t live near a drop-off site you can support the informal sector in your area by placing all your recyclable items in a clear bag (what we call a ‘rich’ bag) and placing it on top of your other waste in your black bin on collection day. That way, the informal collectors can clearly see what is in your bag and there is no need to tear it open.
PETCO sees the role of training and the mentorship of reclaimers as being critical to improving working conditions and assisting entrepreneurs to grow and sustain their businesses, thereby stimulating economic growth, job creation and development in our country. We strengthen relationships with municipalities to encourage the establishment of kerbside collection projects and expand existing PET collection into new areas. PETCO supports projects and initiatives through the sponsorship of infrastructure and equipment that unlocks collections, helps collectors improve their efficiencies as well as the quantity and quality of PET collected. in 2017, PETCO spent R3.5m of its budget to support initiatives and activities that do not necessarily increase the collection volumes of recycled PET, but contribute to the visible recycling of PET.
Buy recycling-compatible PET plastic
In South Africa, opaque and fluorescent PET bottles are not readily recycled because there are no end-use markets and they can cause blockages in the recycling process when producing fibre. Opaque PET bottles also don’t have value, as recyclers don’t want them – they are therefore likely to end up in landfills. Choose clear or light blue PET bottles as they are in high demand by collectors and recyclers, as they have many end-uses and are even able to be turned into new PET bottles. Brown and green bottles are recycled into polyester stable fibre and strapping, but the market for brown and green fibre is saturated in South Africa, thereby rendering these bottles less desirable.
In South Africa, recycled PET (rPET) can be used to make many new products, such as polyester staple fibre used for apparel (clothing), home textiles (duvets, pillows, carpeting), automotive parts (carpets, sound insulation, boot linings, seat covers), industrial end-use items (geotextiles and roof insulation), strapping, fruit carton corner pieces, and new PET packaging and bottles for both food and non-food products. It is generally blended in a ratio of virgin to recycled PET, depending on the application required.
So Do 1 Thing and recycle your PET plastic. Plastic bottles are not trash.