We know that plastics can take between 500-1000 years to break down. And when they end up in landfills, not only do they take up valuable space, often they end up in the oceans, streams, and various waterways.
To prevent this from happening, we need to re-use, re-purpose and recycle. In a world where a lot of our everyday items are disposable, we throw a lot of items away that have harmful consequences to our planet (plastic straws, earbuds, takeaway coffee cups).
Single-use plastics like these are designed for exactly that – to be used once and then to be disposed of – safely. While most of us aren’t aware of what items can and cannot be recycled. Instead of them contaminating other recyclables, we can re-use or re-purpose them instead.
The more environmentally conscious we become, the more we try to do, so always try buying products or items that have been recycled or which can be recycled.
Firstly, recycling reduces the need for raw materials in the manufacturing process. Recycled products also require a lot less water and energy to produce. Recycling also reduces littering, air, and water pollution (lowering our carbon footprint) and creates business opportunities and jobs.
You may be aware that there are many types of plastics, and that many plastics can be recycled. There are also many plastics that cannot be recycled, but that can be re-used or re-purposed. This is what using plastic responsibly means.
Many plastics like water and cold drink bottles can be recycled, melted, and reformed into new products – their molecules are long chains of repeating molecules. Other plastics that cannot be recycled are made from high temperatures, where soft solids or liquids cure them. This network of linked molecules makes these lightweight plastics strong enough to withstand impacts like electricity and heat like aircrafts, cellphones and even wind turbines. These are plastics we are able re-use.
According to Resin Identification Codes (RIC), plastics are differentiated by the temperature at which the material has been heated with numerical classifications #1 to #7. These are what inform you on what type of plastic it is. These codes will usually sit underneath the product to indicate whether or not it can be recycled.
PET: PLASTIC BOTTLES #1
Plastic bottles are usually made of #1 PET plastic, an incredibly valuable recyclable material. Among other items, this plastic can be turned into many new and useful products, like fibre-fill for duvets and pillows, fibre for geotextiles, carpeting and insulation, PET trays for fruit, packaging and even brand-new bottles. You can find out more information about PET and recyclable items here: http://petco.co.za/
POLYOLEFINS: #2, #4 AND #5
This resin identification code for polyolefins are numbers 2, 4 and 5. These are used when sorting through recycling and will also inform you on whether the item should go into your recycling bin or rubbish bin.
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) #2 is packaging made from HDPE and is used for bottles, crates, and drums for a wide range of chemicals. HDPE can also be made into an opaque (not clear) film for packaging.
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) #4 is a strong and tough film and that is generally used for packaging and wrapping of consumer goods like TV’s, microwaves, fridges etc.
Polypropylene (PP) #5 makes up stiff thin-walled packaging items. Various kinds of film from polypropylene are used for different applications. They are different in the way they look and behave.
Film-extruded clear PP films are very strong, the biaxially orientated PP (BOPP) films are shiny, clear and crackle when handled. It is an ideal material for lid closures and containers.
Polystyrene #6 (cups, food trays, egg cartons, etc.) do not biodegrade. Some recycling facilities are beginning to accept these and polystyrene for recycling. But, before throwing these into your recycling bin, always double-check with the recycling facility that you use is able to recycle this item first.
Polycarbonate #7 is found in products like three to five-litre water bottles, protection cases for smart phones and laptops, signs, displays and certain food containers. These plastic are not often recycled.
The best option here is to contact your local municipality for specific instructions on how to dispose of these items safely.
Remember, that depending on where you live and the recycling facility that you use, recycling options vary. Some will allow you to put all your recyclables into one bin. Whereas a lot of communities will have drop off collections specifically for plastic.
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