How much plastic do you use per year? If you could guess, how many kgs would you say?
You may or may not be surprised to learn that “The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says South Africans use between 30kg and 50kg of plastic per person per year.” Times that by a household family of 4, that amounts to a whopping average of 180 – 200kgs of plastic per year, per household!
What is PET plastic?
PET is short for Polyethylene Terephthalate, a type of plastic labelled with the #1 polymer identification code (in a triangle) on or near the bottom of bottles and containers. PET is mainly used for beverage bottles (think water and cooldrink bottles), personal care products, household cleaning products (think handwash and dishwashing liquid) and pharmaceutical products, containers for food items, as well as sheet and film for packaging.
Can PET be recycled?
If you didn’t know, PET is technically 100% recyclable when design guidelines are followed! It’s shatterproof, safe, hygienic, resealable and strong.
PET is light – up to 3.5 x lighter than alternatives, which reduces costs and carbon emissions relating to transportation.
Recycling PET plastic not only reduces waste that ends up in our oceans or in landfills, but also reduces the use of natural resources needed to produce more plastic. PET recycling also creates income opportunities for those who collect and sell PET bottles.
But who does this plastic recycling?
Enter PETCO! PETCO is a Producer Responsibility Organisation in South Africa who ensures that its members’ packaging is collected and recycled, kept out of the environment where it does not belong. PETCO promotes recycling efficiency in the production, design, conversion, collection and recycling of post-consumer PET bottles.
What actually happens to the plastic that is recycled?
In South Africa, disposed PET bottles are collected, flattened and bundled up into big blocks (baled), and delivered to the recycling plant where they are processed further. PET bottles in South Africa are recycled into brand new PET bottles. This creates a closed loop, as the plastic’s life comes full circle.
PET bottles are also recycled into fibre for geotextiles, clothing, and car mats, amongst other things. We are all part of this circular economy, what we do with waste matters and what we do to avoid waste matters.
What is the circular economy?
The circular economy sees materials kept in use for as long as possible. An example of this is when you recycle PET plastic to make rPET (recycled PET), which can be used to make brand new bottles. By separating valuable recyclable materials from your household waste, you are keeping these materials in use, and sending them back for reprocessing, closing the loop.
How can a household go about recycling their plastic packaging efficiently to ensure their plastic’s life comes full circle?
Waste separation is essential for recycling. If organic/food waste is not separated from valuable recyclables, it comprises the chances of those items ever getting recycled. This is because organic and food waste can contaminate valuable recyclables, making extracting recyclable materials more difficult.
When we reduce contamination and separate our recyclables, we maintain the integrity of the materials and increase the chances of them being collected – either by a collection service or by a collector.
When you separate your waste from your recyclables, it means that less valuable recyclable materials end up in landfills where they will stay for many years. Further, fewer recyclables have to be sent to landfill due to contamination.
What other positive impacts does separating your recycling make?
Many people in less privileged circumstances collect recycling as a source of income for themselves and their families. By following the Separate to Recycle method, you protect and respect the dignity of the people who collect recycling, as they won’t need to dig through your bin to collect the recyclables.
What else can you do to help?
- Keep your recyclables in separate storage from your non-recyclable and organic waste, at home.
- On municipal collection day, put your recyclables in a clear bag and leave it on top of your bin.
- OR participate in kerbside projects OR take your recycling to a local drop off sites OR support a local collection business (these can all be found on the PETCO website).
- If you want to recycle at your business, find out more on Postwink.For more on recycling at your school, have a look at Plant the Seed.
- Use your buying power to create change, by demanding products containing recycled content and checking if the products you buy come in packaging that is recyclable in your area.
- If you are unsure of which materials are collected in your area, you can also speak to a collector to find out which materials they want.
- Follow PETCO’s Household Collection and Recycling Guide.
For this year’s Women’s Day in South Africa, we want to introduce a woman in sustainability who inspires us daily. After earning a Master’s degree in Development Studies, she joined Greenpop in 2014. When she is not heading up programmes across Sub-Saharan Africa, you can find her spending time with her family, tending to her garden, practising Italian, and searching for the best pizza in the Mother City. Get to know Zoë Gauld-Angelucci!
World Environment Day is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and has been held annually since 1974. The goal of the day of action is to promote environmental awareness and draw attention to crucial concerns around our planet’s survival, that require active engagement and commitment. Today, the day represents one of the largest global platforms for environmental action, with millions of participants from around the world. Each World Environment Day focuses on a specific issue that reflects urgent problems and challenges of our time, such as climate change, biodiversity loss or pollution.
Composting is surprisingly easy with these 4 steps – you can even do it at home, and don’t need a lot of space.
Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.