This is the third part in our series on plastic. For parts one and two, click here.
Unfortunately, not all municipalities in Gauteng run successful recycling collection programmes ~ so consumers have to learn to do it themselves. The first step is to clean your plastics: rinse them of all food waste. They do not need to be spotless but recycling plants will turn away or discard plastics with too much organic waste ~ it affects the recycling process and can damage the machinery.
Step two is to decide whether you will recycle yourself or rely on your local waste pickers. There are pros and cons to both options. Waste pickers provide a useful service in our communities and are creating some form of income for themselves and their families. But, they do not always take all recyclables because not everything is financially viable for them. For example, PP bottle tops and polystyrene will not provide a waste picker much income, so they leave those items behind. The remainder of your rubbish is then collected and items perfectly suited for recycling end up in landfills. Doing it yourself means you need to have a) somewhere to store your recyclables. This shouldn’t be a big problem for smallholders ~ find an area on your property easily concealed, perhaps behind your garage or next to your compost heap. Build a simple means of containing your waste, for example four pieces of scrap corrugated iron wired together to make a square. Into this you can throw your recyclables (and this can include plastics, glass and cans).
Once full you can either pack your bakkie and trailer with the goods and take it all to your nearest recycling plant or you can find a local recycling company that will come collect the items for you.
Or, your third option is a compromise. Separate your recyclables ~ place those items that waste pickers will take such as plastic bottles, glass etc in a bag next to your wheelie bin on rubbish day. Store the items they will not take ~ bottle tops, polystyrene etc and, when you have enough, call your local recycler to collect them.
But what do we do with the things that aren’t recyclable, such as plastic fruit punnets, or takeaway sandwich containers. Instead of binning them as waste, consider repurposing them. For example, use your grape punnet as a water bowl for your dogs, use them as seed bowls for outdoor birds, or storage.
But, not enough of us will do this and these containers will still end up in landfills and floating in our oceans. So, here’s another option: boycott them. Stop buying items that come in these plastics, make your own sandwich and do not buy a takeaway one, only shop at stores that sell loose fruit. Write to the supermarket chains to tell them you’re upset and disappointed that they continue to use non-recyclable PET plastic containers for a large portion of their fresh fruit and vegetable products.
While organizations such as Petco exist to oversee the industry, the final decision of what type of packaging is used is still made by the production company. They’re the ones we need to be putting pressure on to change.