what do I do with plastic ?

by Carol Anne
(Cape Town)

Hello there

I don't know what to do about all the plastic that ends up in my wheelie bin. How can I stop this happening ?


Carol Anne

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Sep 07, 2016
the problem(s) with plastic
by: Caroline

Dear Carol Anne

You have asked about one of the most relevant aspects of recycling. Recycling plastic is extremely difficult because
1) most plastics are not pure, but admixtures of different types with additives which react badly and unpredictably to smelting
2) in most countries the manufacturer is not required to list the ingredients of a plastic compound on the product therefore plastic containers found in waste may be made up of nearly a limitless number of components
3) even if listing ingredients were common practice the separation of the different components is costly and energy consuming
4) perhaps because of the recycling problem, waste plastic usually has no value, therefore industries have not developed around its re-use, and there is no one to return the plastic to for re-use, and its destination is a landfill, if it cannot be up-cycled.
5) re-using plastic in the home is often more difficult and unsanitary than re-using glass containers
I have not even touched on the toxicity of plastic to humans, the un-sustainability of plastic as a material, and its source in fossil fuels, its persistence in the environment for thousands of years or the pollution of our oceans by plastic particles !
Back to your question: here are my suggestions
1) Learn which types of plastic can be recycled. They have descriptive codes on them, and recycle icons, and a local waste management service may have more information.
2) Return all recyclable plastic to an appropriate source in your neighbourhood. Systems vary so much globally it is impossible to say exactly what form this would take for everyone. Here in Cape Town we can contact Wasteplan, or peruse their website, and contact the recyclers I mention such as D & T.
3) Up-cycle or make art objects or craft, or useful items out of the plastic yourself.
4) Find takers for your plastic. Find out about craft projects, manufacturers and builders using recycled materials in your area, or waste depots that take plastic. Obviously this is only a partial solution as crafters cannot re-use it all.
5) Re-use where you can (don't by freezer containers specially if you have used plastic food containers that you bought with yoghurt and so forth)
All these solutions are about what to do with the plastic flowing out from your home into the waste system. The best solution is of course to prevent it flowing in. This can be done in several ways.
1) Do not take plastic bags in the supermarket, take your own bags when you go shopping. Don't buy prepackaged veggies, take your own plastic bags. You will come across resistance, just talk your way through it, you are educating people as you go.
2) Return all your packaging to the source, such as the supermarket. They will reject your gift probably, but it will make them think about the problem you have created for them.
3) Support zero packaging retailers, such as street markets which allow you to bring your own containers.
4) Support zero packaging activism whenever you have the chance, such as when I make my submission to Fruit Lover's Market, which I will publicize on this website when it happens.
5) Join any public platforms in which you can speak against packaging waste.

I hope I have been of some help. We still have so far to go with the difficult issue of plastic.

The following pages I wrote are about retailers eliminating packaging, how to reduce packaging with your purchasing choices, and the effects of plastic on your health.


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