Single use plastic

Single use plastic

Single use plastic is a commonly enough used term but we need to understand its origin in order to understand why it’s a problem and how can we assist in being part of the solution.

Plastic was specifically developed to be water resistant, flexible, light, and versatile but most important durable. It was a useful convenient invention that has in time been incorporated into everything in our daily living. From electronics, cables, plugs to clothing, food, packaging, furniture, plastic bags, water bottles, dispensable utensils, all those food containers, straws, cosmetic bottles, coat hangers, pens, fibre in your blankets,  the list is long.

The reason why they are not recyclable and are called single use plastic is because they are made from non-renewable petroleum based chemicals. Oil, gas and coal are the base chemicals in plastic.

In South Africa there are about seven types of plastics that are used as the base. Only a small number of these can be recycled. Unfortunately there is very little demand for recyclable plastic. Unless they are PET, HDPE and LDPE.  Recycled plastic cannot be recycled to their original form they can only be recycled to another form of recycled plastic which in turn will be impossible to recycled yet again.

In South Africa the two biggest single plastic problem are the plastic shopping bag and microbeads. The idea of placing a tax on bags made an impact but that was back in 2003 and the financial cost now on a packet is not high enough to make anyone pause. Secondly the plastic is thin and light, in order to be recyclable but the negative of that is that the plastic can easily be spread by wind from landfills and has a negative impact on the environment. Clogging drains, being swept into the ocean and into all water sources. Microbeads are used in household and personal hygene products. Toothpaste, washing powders, scrubs these are non-biodegradable.  Those tiny particles go into everything, the water table and eventually the ocean and then are consumed by the entire ecosystem. Currently in South Africa there is no law prohibiting the manufacturers of these products to find alternatives.

Here is a list of the main eight and their possible recycling options, which are limited.
PET – Polyetheylen – example, water bottles – recycled into fibre filling for clothing, pillows etc.
HDPE – High Density Polyethylen – cleaning products – fencing, pipes, plastic toys
PVC – Polyvinyl – being phased out – unlikely to be recycled
LDPE – Low- Density Polyetheylene – rubbish bags, bubble wrap – yoga mats, bin liners
PP– Polypropylene – bottle lids, yogurt tubs – uncommonly recycled (car battery cases)
PS – Polystyrene – Foamed meat and veg trays – uncommonly recycled (picture frames)
Variety of other plastics – chip packets – generally not recycled
Unmarked plastics – multi-lamintated plastic foils – generally not recycled

So as consumers we can reduce our consumption of plastic by recycling, reusing, reduce, regenerate, don’t buy the packaging, make your own and be aware. Don’t buy the product that cannot be recycled.

And the retailers have a responsibility to assist us consumers in any way they can. Provide alternative bags, clearly label those products that are recyclable, don’t stock up on non-biodegradable products.

We all can be responsible within our communities. Support those who are showing responsibility, educate and share knowledge, and support each other.




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