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By Vhahangwele Nemakonde

Digital Deputy News Editor

Consumers need to realise plastic has value and can be reused

Solving the problem of how these plastic products are disposed of is where the challenge lies.

For some time now, plastic has been tarred as the root of all polluting evil. However, as independent plastic materials scientist Dr Chris DeArmitt, said, blaming plastics for pollution is like driving a car into a tree and then blaming the car.

The problem is not plastic per se, but rather humans’ attitude to what we perceive as waste. A growing number of countries are printing polypropylene banknotes because they are waterproof, dirt proof, have a longer life span, are harder to counterfeit and are recyclable.

Despite the fact that they are being manufactured from what is essentially plastic – polypropylene is a synthetic polymer substrate – we’re unlikely to see banknotes littering the local beach or lying in a gutter. This is because polypropylene banknotes have value so we’re careful with them. The same cannot always be said for single-use plastic items which frequently end up in landfills or are discarded as litter rather than being recycled.

There is no escaping the fact that over the past five decades, plastics have played an important role in our daily lives, particularly when it comes to global food distribution and extending the shelf life of fresh products.

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Solving the problem of how these plastic products are disposed of is where the challenge lies. There is a growing global movement to encourage consumers to recycle plastics with a circular economy in mind. Sadly, most plastic products are not designed with circularity in mind and can’t be recycled. This requires that manufacturers make some changes to their manufacturing inputs and processes to ensure that they are recyclable.

This is something that Plastics SA – an organisation representing the country’s plastics industry – is keenly aware of, noting the need to “embrace a circular economy and create a true nothing wasted mindset to ensure that every piece of plastic that our industry creates, is collected and recycled again back into raw material”, as Anton Hanekom wrote in the preface to the Plastic 2020 report, an analysis of South Africa’s latest plastics production and waste data published in late 2021.

Conceding that more work, research and investment are required to develop new recycling technologies that will transform difficult to recycle products into new and useful, durable products, Hanekom added that the new Section 18 Extended Producer Responsibility legislation that came into effect in late 2021 will have a positive impact on the availability of plastic waste.

According to the new legislation, various producer responsibility organisations have been mandated to ensure that packaging waste is collected and reused or recycled to achieve recycling targets set by government.

Hanekom anticipates the local plastics recycling industry will continue its upward growth trajectory and that more will be invested to support the collection, sorting and recycling of recyclable materials. Critically important, too, is that more resources are allocated to develop new end-use markets that will consume these recyclable materials, he pointed out.

Ultimately, it’s about ensuring that consumers understand that used packaging – as well as used single-use plastics – has value and can be recycled.

-Devenish is marketing director at Sani-Touch

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