Plastic packaging is an ever-present part of our daily lives, and its environmental impact has become a growing concern. In South Africa, the adoption of recycled plastic as an alternative to virgin plastic in packaging poses several challenges. We explore three key considerations for determining when recycled plastic becomes a viable choice: material supply is secure, minimal impact on cost, and food safe validation and traceability in place.
One of the primary challenges in using recycled plastic for packaging in South Africa is ensuring a consistent and reliable supply of high-quality recycled materials. The availability and access to recycled plastic can vary, depending on factors such as collection infrastructure, sorting facilities, and consumer recycling habits. For recycled plastic to be a viable alternative, there needs to be a well-established recycling ecosystem that can consistently provide an adequate supply of clean and sorted recycled plastics.
Cost is a crucial factor in assessing the viability of recycled plastic when compared to it’s virgin material equivalent. While recycling can help reduce the overall environmental impact, the economics must also make sense for businesses. The cost of collecting, sorting, cleaning, and processing recycled plastic can be higher than using virgin plastic. To incentivize the use of recycled plastic, we need mechanisms such as government incentives, extended producer responsibility programs, and innovative business models that promote circularity need to be in place to bridge the cost gap.
Validation and Traceability
Packaging materials used for food and beverage products must adhere to stringent safety standards to ensure consumer health. The challenge increases when validating the food safety of recycled plastic, as it may have been exposed to various contaminants during its previous life cycle. Thorough testing and certification processes are essential to verify that the recycled plastic used in packaging meets all necessary food safety requirements. Additionally, establishing a robust traceability system throughout the recycling process is crucial in the supply chain.
Perhaps the answer is not simply Recycled Plastic vs Virgin Plastic. Perhaps we should consider how the two can work in conjunction with one another. This is why, at Plastic Bubbles, we have a regrinding and mixing facility to ensure we recycle our own virgin material that lands up as plastic scrap.
We are continuously exploring new ways to enhance our recycling processes and improve sustainability. We invest in research and development to find innovative solutions, collaborate with industry partners, and stay at the forefront of sustainable practices. All our material that has been classified as waste is recycled and even our waste boxes and plastic packaging material is also sold to recycling companies to reduce our waste to landfill.
The key to our comprehensive recycling systems is our regrinding and mixing processes. Here’s how it works:
- We carefully collect and sort plastic scrap generated during our production processes. This scrap is then recorded, weighed and processed in our specialized regrinding equipment, which breaks down the scrap into smaller particles and then repelletized into reusable material. The fresh recyclate is then sorted into categories by material type and colour and given a new batch number.
- During the mixing process, the recyclate is thoroughly mixed with virgin plastic material. This blending process ensures that the recycled plastic maintains its quality and meets our strict quality and traceability standards for use in our manufacturing operations. We also have a closed loop system on some of our machines where scrap is regrinded on the machines and reworked into the next run automatically without any manual intervention.
In South Africa, the viability of using recycled plastic as an alternative to virgin plastic in packaging depends on overcoming several challenges. Ensuring a secure supply of high-quality recycled materials, minimizing the cost impact, and addressing food safety concerns through validation and traceability are critical aspects. Collaborative efforts involving government, industry stakeholders, and consumers are necessary to create an enabling environment that supports the adoption of recycled plastic and promotes a sustainable circular economy in the country’s packaging industry.