It is a common belief that packaging materials marked with the recycling triangle (three bent arrows) and a number can be recycled. Unfortunately, this is not the case in South Africa. A few supermarkets, including Woolworths, have started to change the recycling labels on their products to avoid this confusion.
Not all plastic packaging can be recycled, yet some of these items are embossed with the recycling triangle. This is because South African recycling facilities can only process certain types of plastic. In addition, the manufacturers of plastic packaging use very similar symbols to the recycling triangle to depict the type of plastic used. This is for the benefit of waste management companies, not the consumer.
This symbol is a triangle with a number inside it. Some people may think that this is the number of times a product can be recycled. In fact, the number (between 1 and 7) refers to the type of plastic resin used to make the packaging. This symbol is often mistaken for the recycling symbol, so Woolworths has started to make the distinction more clear.
Woolworths using wording to avoid confusion
The solution was quite simple for Woolworths – use written words to clearly indicate what is recyclable and what is not. The supermarket prints a sticker on their products that says “Widely recycled in SA” or “Not currently recycled”.
The “Not currently recycled” sticker simply denotes that South African recycling facilities do not have the capability to process the material at the moment. Although it may be technically possible to do so, in a few years’ time, recycling facilities will upgrade their equipment and these types of plastic may then become recyclable in South Africa.
What do the plastic symbols mean?
If you’re wondering what plastic to put in the recycling bin, take a look at the symbol and see the numbers below:
- 1 PETE (PET) – Polyethylene terephthalate plastic is used to make plastic bottles and medicine containers. It is widely recyclable in South Africa.
- 2 HDPE – High-density Polyethylene plastic is used to make sturdy containers, toys and plastic shopping bags. It is recyclable in South Africa.
- 3 PVC – Polyvinyl chloride plastic is used to make water pipes, shower curtains, car dashboards and medical tubing. It is not recyclable in South Africa.
- 4 LDPE – Low-density Polyethylene plastic is used to make cling film, grocery bags and sandwich bags. Certain recycling facilities in South Africa can process LDPE.
- 5 PP – Polypropylene plastic is used to make Tupperware, yoghurt tubs and plastic bottle caps. It is recyclable in South Africa.
- 6 PS – Polystyrene is used to make plastic cups, disposable cutlery, packing peanuts, insulation. Certain recycling facilities will accept Polystyrene in South Africa.
- 7 OTHER – This denotes a variety of other plastics or a combination of the above. Packaging materials with this symbol are not currently recycled in South Africa.
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