Our lifestyles have changed.  We’re all on the go, we want convenience and we like the number of choices we have. But this has led to an increase in the production and consumption of plastic.

Unsurprisingly, in the last few years there has been an increase in attention paid to plastic waste in our environment – “plastiphobia”. This is due to the fact that plastic waste is escaping into the open environment, from which it cannot realistically be collected for recycling, composting, or anything else.

However, before we demonise all plastic use, we need to learn that packaging must be fit for its purpose.

In some applications, PET plastic is cheaper and more suitable than other materials.

For instance, PET plastic packaging can prevent food wastage and sickness by protecting our food and water from contamination and damage. We’ve have increasingly seen this in the last few months with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In South Africa, recycled PET (rPET) can be used to make many new products, such as polyester staple fibre used for clothing, home textiles (duvets, pillows, carpeting), automotive parts (carpets, sound insulation, boot linings, seat covers), industrial  items (geotextiles and roof insulation), strapping, fruit carton corner pieces, and new PET packaging and bottles for both food and non-food products. Most importantly, PET plastic bottles can be recycled into brand new PET bottles – truly  ‘closing the loop.’

From an environmental perspective, two points are key: PET is the most recycled packaging polymer on the shelves and the weight of PET packaging has reduced by more than 30% over the past 10 years. PET plastic is also lightweight, shatterproof and robust and can be used instead of heavier materials, this assists when products need to be transported, saving on carbon emissions due to space and weight on trucks. 

The good news is that:

  • PET plastic packaging can be and does get recycled
  • Punnets, tubs and trays already contain recycled content
  • PETCO has created a mechanism where PET plastic bottles have a value, so they will get collected and recycled 

So what can you do as a consumer?

Try live by the waste hierarchy, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, and then recycle. Take your own bags, cups and containers with you to the shops where possible.

Increase your knowledge around what is and what isn’t recycled in your area or province. For that info, have a look at the other Producer Responsibility Organisations in South Africa: Polyco, The Glass Recycling Company, MetPac-SA, Polystyrene Association of South Africa, South African Vinyls Association, Recycle Paper ZA. Learn about what the different polymer identification codes mean for the recyclability of your packaging.

Choose products that are designed to be recycled. This means that when they are initially designed, what happens to them post-consumer use has been considered. See what to look out for with PET bottles, tubs and trays here.

At home, get a separate bin and clear bags, and put dry, clean recyclable packaging into it. You will be surprised at how little wet or food waste you have. Compost if you are able to. When organising collection, either speak to your local collector about the materials that they would want and leave it out for them on a certain day. Drop your recyclables off at a depot near you or organise for a collection service to collect from your home or block. There are also how-to guides on the PETCO website.

And remember, doing something is better than nothing.

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