How to recycle responsibly

August 24, 2021

We all know what it means to recycle plastics, but what a lot of us don’t know is how to recycle plastics responsibly. Recycling is the process of collecting materials that would otherwise be thrown out as waste and turning these materials into new products.

There are many benefits to recycling plastics and other materials, not only do they help to keep our environment clean and the air we breathe healthy, but we also reduce waste that would otherwise end up in landfills, our rivers and ocean.

By recycling plastics, we protect our natural resources, and we also prevent pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials – saving energy and conserving other valuable resources like water. We’re also helping to create jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in South Africa, and beyond.

What many of us don’t realise is that some materials like plastic straws, earbuds and six-pack rings cannot be recycled. They also often end up killing our ocean life. So how do you recycle responsibly?


Reduce, re-use, recycle are terms that a lot of us have heard, but aren’t too familiar with what the terms mean. To reduce means to minimise the number of plastic products we purchase. By re-using plastics, it means we’re finding alternative ways to use plastics so that we prevent over consumption of this material. Recycling means collecting plastics, and placing them into the correct green bin, so that they can be turned into a product that we can use, instead of it ending up in the trash.


This may be a little bit of homework, but first, you’d need to read up on the recycling rules for the area that you live in and ensure that you don’t send plastics to factories that cannot be recycled. Each area has their own specifications, so it’s important to always try to follow what your municipality does as best as you possibly can. That’s why we’ve given you a little bit of a head-start by listing some of the products that can and cannot be recycled:

Here’s what can be recycled: 

  • Plastics like PET cold drink and water bottles (marked numbers 1, 2, 5 in the triangle).
  • Plastic milk bottles, yoghurt, margarine, and ice cream tubs.
  • Soft plastic bags and packaging.
  • Cling wrap, pallet wrap and bubble wrap.
  • Shopping bags.
  • Chunky, white polystyrene used to package an electronic item like a television.
  • Plastic garden chairs, buckets, flowerpots.
  • Plastic packaging for fruits and vegetables (unless they are made of PET or black polystyrene)


Here’s what cannot be recycled: 

  • Straws, earbuds, six-pack rings.
  • Coffee cups
  • Chip packets, biscuit wrappers and tea bag wrappers.
  • Plastics contaminated with oil, paint, glue.
  • Laminated paper.
  • Plastic items that contain metal (like screws and adapter plugs)
  • White, black polystyrene trays, containers, and cups.
  • Soft black plastic

So why can we recycle some items made from PET and some not? All PET bottles, like cold drink and water bottles, can be recycled. PET containers that contain fresh fruit, sandwiches etc. are not recyclable in South Africa – these we should always try to re-use.

What happens to the items that you collect to recycle? These items are sorted, cleaned and processed into materials that can be used in manufacturing. Recyclable materials are also bought and sold like raw materials.


By recycling, we create a movement of materials for processing into new items. By purchasing recycled items, we are supporting this process that would otherwise end up as waste. This is part of what we call the ‘circular economy’. Before purchasing a plastic item, ask yourself if it is a recyclable good, or if you can re-use it.


If there’s an item that you’re looking to dispose of like clothing or toys, there are many organisations and people that would really appreciate them. So, try to make it a rule that whatever is still useable is given away to those in need.

Did you know? 

That more and more products are being manufactured with recycled content. These plastic materials can be turned into items such as carpets, clothing, park benches, and even to pave our roads.

We know that recycling responsibly isn’t as black and white as it may seem, and that it can be a bit tricky because not all kinds of recyclables are necessarily collected in your community. So, remember, it’s very important to check this. Every little bit of plastic that we recycle, or re-use makes a much bigger difference than we may think. Not only are we helping to create a more sustainable environment for ourselves and our future generations, but we are also contributing towards job creation and a thriving, circular economy.

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Author: Let's Plastic Responsibly
Title: How to recycle responsibly

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