This World Clean Up Day ‘Numbers Don’t Count’

This World Clean Up Day ‘Numbers Don’t Count’

This World Clean Up Day (September 21) the numbers printed on colddrink and sauce bottles, margarine and yoghurt tubs, toothpaste tubes, deodorant sticks, buckets, dustpans, toys and the like don’t count – gather them all up and recycle them all, the discarded plastic that is.

That’s the advice from South African National Bottled Water Association CEO, Charlotte Metcalf.

“Much of the time, I am called upon to refute the urban myths that circulate about polyethylene terephthalate – or PET – the plastic approved as safe for food and beverage contact by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States and similar regulatory agencies throughout the world, including South Africa,” she explained.

“To do so, I often urge people to look for the plastic resin code1 in the ‘recycle triangle’ that must, by law, be printed or embossed into the container. Those numbered 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 are most often used for food and beverage packaging in South Africa, and are therefore safe to come into contact with your food and beverages.

“It feels very strange to not be giving that advice. But – when it comes to recycling – there’s no right number. All plastics are recyclable, regardless of the number in the triangle. That number simply tells the recycler what type of recycling process to follow. So, forget your numbers and don’t discriminate against any plastic. It all deserves to be recycled unless it specifically states that it is not recyclable!”

With millions of volunteers in 150 countries, World Clean-Up Day is the biggest one-day civic action against waste in human history. If you are keen to participate, visit or to find out about the plastics industry’s events.

“If you don’t have the time to join in a full-day activation, simply take a stroll in nature or around your neighbourhood and pick up whatever litter you can. Then simply pop the recyclables into a bag and hand it in at your nearest recycling drop-off site,” added Metcalf.

“And, whenever you are shopping for bottled water, look for the SANBWA seal. SANBWA’s members are highly committed to environmental stewardship and must not only contribute to recycling initiatives in their areas but must comply with design-for-recycling design standards.

Design-for-recycling is a vital consideration, because an ill-conceived but well-meaning design can alter the bottle’s recycling status. For example, bottles with designs printed directly on to the plastic cannot be recycled. They may look good and you may think that doing so removes the label from the chain but the recyclers’ equipment cannot process the bottles because the ink ‘pollutes’ the recycling chain.”

The South African bottled water industry is a small user of plastic, most of it PET. BMI puts the size of the industry at only 10% of total non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverages. By extrapolation, the bottle water industry therefore uses only 10% of the total number plastic bottles used by the total non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverage market.

When it comes to PET recycling, PET is recycled at a higher rate than other plastics. Latest statistics from national industry body PET Recycling Company (PETCO) show that 98 649 tonnes of post-consumer PET plastic bottles were recycled last year alone, equivalent to a recycling rate over 65% or 6.2 million PET.

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