I bet if you look around yourself right now, the majority of items you can see will contain at least some plastic. Right? We use plastic in almost every product these days, because it is versatile and fairly cheap.
Fortunately most plastics can be recycled. Unfortunately each time they are recycled they are weakened, and may not be able to be recycled again (and certainly not indefinitely). So while recycling plastic is an important waste management solution, it isn’t the end goal. Rather try to refuse, reduce and reuse plastics before you even consider recycling. (For more on this, read this – the 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Rot.)
But here’s a plastic recycling guide for those plastics that you really can’t avoid…
Most plastics are labelled. Understanding the labels means you can identify the type of plastic it is, and consequently if it is recyclable.
1 – PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
PET is most commonly used for soft drink and water bottles and some food containers.
- PET bottles can be recycled, and made into hollow-fibre filling for jackets, duvets, pillows and sleeping bags, soft drink bottles, carpeting, building insulation, geotextiles for road stabilisation and dam linings, and Plastiwood.
- PET containers (e.g. for sandwiches or food) cannot be recycled.
2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
This plastic is mostly used for bottles for milk, cleaning product bottles, cosmetics and toiletries, film, buckets, crates and motor oils.
- It can be recycled, and turned into recycling bins, compost bins, buckets, detergent containers, posts, fencing, pipes, plastic timber and plastic chairs.
3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
Unplasticised PVC can be used for toiletry containers, electrical conduits, plumbing pipes, medication, bottles and roof sheeting. Plasticised PVC is more flexible, and therefore used for garden hose, show soles, cable sheathing, blood bags and tubing.
- It can be recycled into flooring, film and sheets, cables, speed bumps, binders, mud flaps, gumboots and shoes.
4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
Number 4 is used to make rubbish bags, frozen veggie bags, building film, cling wrap, and some squeezable bottles and cosmetic tubs.
- It can be recycled in bin liners, pallet sheets, irrigation piping, a variety of containers, and construction and building film.
5 – PP (Polypropylene)
Polypropylene is used in bottle tops, ice cream tubs, margarine tubs, straws, microwave dishes, kettles, garden furniture, lunch boxes, packaging tape and bottle caps.
- It can be recycled in pegs, bins, pipes, pallet sheets, oil funnels, car battery cases and trays.
6 – PS (Polystyrene)
There are two kinds of polystyrene: high-impact polystyrene is used to make CD cases, plastic cutlery, coat hangers and yoghurt cups, expanded polystyrene is used to make the trays for meat and vegetables, take-away containers, and protective packaging for goods (especially electronic goods).
- Both types of polystyrene can be recycled into picture frames, curtain rails, finials, skirting boards, cornices, rulers, seedling trays and coat hangers.
7 – OTHER
All other plastics that don’t fit under numbers 1 to 6 are included in this category, and include all resins and mutli-materials (e.g. laminates). These can be used for things like automotive and appliance components, computers, electronics, cooler bottles and packaging.
Note: Plastics contaminated with oil, paint or glue, or plastic bonded, cannot be recycled.
Final word: Just because something can be recycled, it doesn’t mean that every recycling plant will have the facilities to recycle it, so always check first. Whenever waste goes to the wrong recycling plant, there is a risk it might not make it to the right one, simply because they may not have the resources or time to find out where to divert it to.
One useful way to find recyclers near you is with the MyWaste widget: mywaste.co.za/mywaste-widgets/